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At Michael Brown's Funeral, Celebration Of His Life and Calls For Change

Michael Brown Sr., center, arrives at his son's funeral.
Bill Greenblatt | UPI

Michael Brown's funeral Monday combined remembrances of the young man and calls for justice.

"Michael Brown doesn't want to be remembered for a riot," the Rev. Al Sharpton said. "He wants to be remembered as the one who made America deal with how we police in the United States."

Mourners filled the 2,500-seat main auditorium of Friendly Temple Baptist Church, as well as several other areas with closed circuit television access. People had begun lining up hours before the service was to begin, some traveling from as far as Texas and Ohio to attend. While waiting, some in the crowd began singing "We Shall Overcome."

On Brown's casket was a red Cardinals baseball cap and red roses, a color also worn by his mother Lesley McSpadden and several other members of the family. Two large photos of Brown flanked the casket, as did other photos of a smiling Brown as a child and a young man.

About 600 members of the extended Brown family attended the service. Officials estimated the total attendance of the funeral at about 4,500.

Mourners file in to Friendly Temple Baptist Church Monday for the funeral of Michael Brown.
Credit Stephanie Lecci | St. Louis Public Radio
Mourners file in to Friendly Temple Baptist Church Monday for the funeral of Michael Brown.

A number of dignitaries were also on hand, including U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo.; the Rev. Jesse Jackson; U.S. Rep. William Lacy Clay, D-Mo.; Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder; as well as three White House aides. Missouri Gov. Nixon did not attend, out of respect for the privacy of the family, a news release said.

“Today our hearts are heavy at the loss of another young man. The family has not had time to grieve,” Jackson told reporters. “They’ve been so busy trying to process this. But there will be lonely moments when the flowers will be dried and blown away. They’ll have to come to grips with the fact that their son is not coming home again. And parents should not have to go through that process over and over and over again.”

"Home-going celebration"

The service was called a "life celebration" as well as a "home-going celebration" by officiant Pastor Michael Jones. He led the crowd of mourners in a standing ovation for the family.

Several speakers described Brown as a kind and spiritual young man. One speaker recalled Brown's "big gentle smile" and called him a "kind gentle soul." Several of the speakers said Brown would often say that the world would someday know his name. Brown's stepmother Cal Brown echoed this story, saying Brown had told her he had dreamed of death.

Brown's uncle, Pastor Charles Ewing, said the family didn't need another political uprising. What they needed was for the community to unify.

Michael Brown Jr.'s body is carried to the hearse after services.
Credit Bill Greenblatt | UPI
Michael Brown Jr.'s body is carried to the hearse after services.

"Michael Brown's blood is crying from the ground for vengeance. Crying for justice," Ewing said. "There is a cry being made from the ground, not just for Michael Brown, but for Trayvon Martin, for the children at Sandy Hook, for Columbine, for black on black crime."

Other speakers called on the public to avoid more protests and violence, echoing a call Michael Brown Sr. made on Sunday for a "day of silence" in honor of his son.

Bishop Edwin Bast, who related the story of losing his own son to gun violence, said Brown's parents also had been given "a special calling in our lives to be the agents of change." He also called on the public to avoid rioting and looting.

Attorney Ben Crump, who has been representing Brown's family, spoke about the legacy of important legal cases such as Plessy v. Ferguson and the three-fifths compromise.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson, left, and the Rev. Al Sharpton talk after the funeral service for Michael Brown Jr.
Credit Bill Greenblatt | UPI
The Rev. Jesse Jackson, left, and the Rev. Al Sharpton talk after the funeral service for Michael Brown Jr.

Michael Brown "was not three-fifths of a citizen, he was an American citizen. And we will not accept three-fifths justice. We will demand equal justice for Mike Brown Jr.," he said.

Sharpton also called for protestors to stay peaceful.

"Big Mike and the mother, they had to break their mourning to ask people to stop looting. They had to stop mourning to get you to control your anger like you are more angry than they are, like you don't understand that Michael Brown doesn't want to be remembered for a riot," Sharpton said. "He wants to be remembered as the one who made America deal with how we police in the United States."

Sharpton criticized programs giving military weapons to local police departments and instead called on the funding for that program to be used on training and education for young people. He criticized the release of the video that allegedly showed Michael Brown committing a robbery. He also called for the "bad apples" among police to be dealt with appropriately.

But Sharpton asked for a calm approach to these issues.

"We can't have a fit. We ought to have a movement," he said. "A movement means we are here for the long haul."

Sharpton had some sharp words for African Americans, which received applause and shouts from the mourners. He said the community needs to move past "ghetto pity parties."

"We have to be outraged by our disrespect for each other, our killing and shooting and gun-toting," he said.

Sharpton ended by calling Brown's killing a seminal moment.

"This young man has appealed to us to change this," he said. "The policies of this country cannot go unchallenged. The value of this boy's life must be answered by somebody."

At the end of the more than two hour ceremony, pall bearers carried out the casket, followed by the family. The procession then went to St. Peter's Cemetery where Brown was to be interred.

From across the nation

Brown’s memorial service drew mourners from around the region – and around the country. 

Credit Jason Rosenbaum, St. Louis Public Radio
Pallbearers lead Brown's casket to a horse-drawn carriage at St. Peter's Cemetery in Normandy.

Frieda Wheaton of St. Louis said she attended the funeral “to witness the real generosity of the people of St. Louis” and the country.

“Michael Brown having been killed really in a sad way at the age of 18 is something that I think a lot of people can emphasize with,” Wheaton said. “I certainly do, because in my lifetime I’ve just seen so much of that kind of ending of one’s life in terms of what has been reported in the news and what we’ve witnessed.”

Thomas Aquell traveled from Atlanta to attend the funeral. He said he made the trip because “another human being was killed.”

“I would have went to a Caucasian funeral … [who] had been killed by an African-American man not knowing him at all,” said Aquell, who is active with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. “I didn’t know the young man that got killed down here. But I know he was a human being.”

Melvin Walker lives in Vacaville, California. The St. Louis native was visiting his old neighborhood before Brown died, and decided to stay.

Standing outside the St. Peter’s Cemetery in Normandy, Walker called Brown’s death “one of those toxic pots” that ended up boiling over. But he emphasized that he’s had good experiences with the police – especially a Northwoods officer who’s been checking in on his father.

“Even though we know that this might be a tragedy that should be taken care of, everybody dressed in blue is not a part of it,” Walker said. “And this guy here is younger than me. He’s got to be in his twenties. I just think he’s a beautiful person. He has a heart that nobody sees behind this.” 

“I’m not saying all of them are good,” he added. “But this guy here is an angel. Everybody in the neighborhood loves this man.” 

After the memorial service came to an end, Brown’s hearse arrived at St. Peter’s Cemetery. Dozens of motorcyclists guarded the entrance as a row of limousines eased in.

Sharpton and Jackson joined Brown’s family at the cemetery. They watched as pallbearers placed Brown’s casket into a horse-drawn carriage. A crowd of onlookers broke into song before moving through the cemetery.

When the limousines began to move, the driver of the carriage told two white horses to “walk on.” The carriage then guided Brown to his final resting place.   

Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.