Thousands waited single-file outside The Fountain of Praise church to pay their respects to George Floyd. Floyd’s open-casket visitation was held June 8 in southwest Houston near Missouri City.

Floyd’s publicized death in late May while being detained by a white police officer has garnered national attention. His visitation drew attendees from all over the country and world.

George Smith, with his cousin from Delaware, drove about 22 hours from Philadelphia to pay his respects to Floyd, he said.

“This is my first time being a part of any organized protests or [an event related to] George Floyd,” Smith said. “I wanted to see him laid to rest.”

Floyd grew up in Houston’s Third Ward and was killed in the custody of the Minneapolis Police Department on May 25. A video of his death, as well as the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and other black Americans, have prompted days of demonstrations across the country and sparked conversations about police violence and systemic racism.

Alumnae of Jack Yates High School who went to school with Floyd were present at the visitation. After attending other events in Floyd’s honor, they were touched by the turnout at the visitation.

“That’s how you know you did what you were supposed to do,” said Mary Ginns, one of the alumnae present. “It doesn’t matter what you do throughout your life; it matters what you did at the end.”

Floyd’s legacy

The visitation brought together those who knew Floyd as well as strangers. Lisa Mahlum and Beverly Austin both hail from the Houston area but bonded while waiting in line.

“We wanted to show unity for this man,” Austin said. “The light he’s shone on everything going on for years and years, it gives me a correlation to how Jesus was born in a manger. This young man came into the world with nothing, and look today at how many people he’s brought together everywhere.”

Only 10 people were allowed into the church at the time. Those entering the church were required to wear masks, and temperatures were taken before people could enter.

“I wanted to see [Floyd’s] body and pay tribute to make it all the more real,” said Truman Jones, who traveled from Atlanta with his family for the visitation.

Jones and his family only waited 20 minutes to view the body, he said.

With so many in attendance, lines wrapped around the outside of the FountainLife Center waiting on a shuttle to the church and outside The Fountain of Praise church. The weather was in the mid-90s with a heat index of over 100. Volunteers with Texas Organizing Project passed out water to attendees.

Texas Organizing Project volunteer Cecelia Fontenot said she hopes Floyd’s death leads to changes within local police departments, including more specialized training.

“I’m encouraged about the people coming together from all races and in other countries because this should have never happened,” Fontenot said. “I hope the change is coming sooner rather than later.”

Everyone who viewed the casket, including Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, signed the visitation book as they exited the church.

“Prior to his death, outside of this city and Minneapolis no one knew his name, and now people across the globe say and know his name,” Turner said. “One person, in their living and in their dying, can move the world.”

Along with Turner, Gov. Greg Abbott and Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo were in attendance.

“Racism is alive and well, but so is hope, and that’s what you’re seeing here today,” Acevedo said.

Attendees at the visitation said they hope the conversations sparked by Floyd’s death do not end after he is laid to rest.

“We look back on atrocities like the Holocaust and civil rights movements that predates my age, and I always wondered where would I be in history,” Mahlum said, holding back tears. “I’m living it, and I want to be here.”