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Memorial Held In George Floyd's North Carolina Birthplace


In the hours before the service, thousands of mourners passed before his casket to pay their final respects. North Carolina Public Radio's Liz Schlemmer attended the public viewing this morning.

LIZ SCHLEMMER, BYLINE: A long line snaked across the parking lot of a church building outside the small town of Raeford, about 20 miles from where Floyd was born. Greg Packer of Huntington, N.Y., was the first in line.

GREG PACKER: I was at the protest yesterday in Brooklyn. And just being there made me want to come down here just by listening to everybody speak and just hearing his name over and over again even here - George Floyd.

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Chanting) George Floyd. George Floyd. George Floyd. George Floyd.

SCHLEMMER: Apart from a few chants, the mood was quiet and respectful. Most of the thousands of visitors travelled from within North Carolina, and most are African American. Angela Caraway (ph) says it's only natural for black people to come together to support Floyd's family.

ANGELA CARAWAY: So that's what we know. It's in our DNA to come together when somebody else is hurting. So this is what we do.

SCHLEMMER: Floyd's casket was open today. Seeing his face in person moved Henry Davis.

HENRY DAVIS: I feel like that could have been me lying there. And I've been in situations where it could have easily escalated.

SCHLEMMER: Chasity Melvin compared this to the funeral of Emmett Till. When that teenager was brutally lynched in Mississippi in 1955, his mother chose to show his body to the world.

CHASITY MELVIN: His mother made sure the casket was open just to show people, like, yeah, this is really - this isn't just TV making, you know, stories up, or you see it on the news, and you kind of feel like it's not real. So this is going to make it more real for everyone that walks through this church right here today to see it.

SCHLEMMER: Melvin said this was the chance for people to recognize themselves in Floyd.

MELVIN: Just so you know, like, yeah, this is really happening, and it's got to stop. And when people come together for a good cause, you know, change happens. Because right now, like, my parents - they wanted the future better for me. I want the future better for my nieces and nephews.

SCHLEMMER: Floyd's body will move on to Houston, where he lived much of his life. There, crowds will gather once again before he is laid to rest on Tuesday.

For NPR News, I'm Liz Schlemmer. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Liz Schlemmer is WUNC's Education Policy Reporter, a fellowship position supported by the A.J. Fletcher Foundation. She has an M.A. from the UNC Chapel Hill School of Media & Journalism and a B.A. in history and anthropology from Indiana University.