Purchase photos

Funeral a call to action

8/26/2014

By ELISA CROUCH and DOUG MOORE

By ELISA CROUCH and DOUG MOORE

McClatchy-Tribune

ST. LOUIS -- Shortly before Michael Brown died, his stepmother was admitted to the hospital. He became convinced she wasn't going to make it.

"Because I've been dreaming about death," Cal Brown recalled her stepson saying, recounting a conversation at his funeral Monday the two of them had in early August. Several days later, a police officer shot Michael Brown as he walked unarmed on Canfield Drive.

Members of Brown's family believe he prophesied his own death. Approximately 4,500 people filled Friendly Temple Missionary Baptist Church to pay their respects to Brown, the teenager whose death has stirred a movement. Many said the images of his body lying in the street Aug. 9 sent a message of marginalization they no longer could ignore.

It brought people to his funeral who never had met Brown. It brought mostly blacks, some who spent more than 12 hours driving from cities as far as Atlanta because they felt a strong connection to him despite knowing little about his life. He reminded them of their own sons and grandsons, and the difficult conversations they've had to have with their children about how to avoid getting shot by a police officer.

As Brown's body lay at the front of the sanctuary, inside a black metal casket trimmed in gold, he was mourned by his mother, father and stepparents. Lesley McSpadden sat nearest to her son's casket, gently rocking back and forth. Michael Brown Sr. wore a tie with an image of his son's face on the bottom.

Approximately 600 members of the immediate and extended family filled a section of the sanctuary. A large spray of red roses lay on Brown's casket -- similar to the hundreds of red roses that have been placed on the street where he died. Photographs of Brown as a boy and teenager sat on easels on either side.

"He had given his soul and life to the Lord Jesus Christ," said the Rev. Charles Ewing, Brown's uncle.

Brown's stepmother, Cal Brown said, "He is not a lost soul. His death is not in vain."

At times, the booming sounds of Gospel filled the cavernous sanctuary, from the church's choir that filled risers on stage. In the sanctuary and in three overflow rooms, people raised their hands in prayer.

Ewing and others said they believe Brown was chosen by God -- that his death serves a greater purpose.

The Rev. Al Sharpton said this moment demands more than observation. Not violence or destruction, he said, but it requires coming together and demanding change through legislation and elections.

"What does God require of you?" Sharpton said. "We sit like we have no requirements. But all of us are required to respond to this. And all of us must solve this."

He denounced the looting and violence in Ferguson in the nights following the shooting.

"What you don't understand is that Michael Brown does not want to be remembered for a riot," he said. "He wants to be remembered as the one that made America deal with how we police in the United States."

Sharpton said police deserve respect.

"We're not anti-police," he said.

He had biting words for the black community, one that he described as too divided and too apathetic.

"We have to be outraged by our disrespect for each other," he said. "Our disregard for each other. Our killing and shooting and gunning down each other. ... Acting like the definition of blackness is how low you can go."

Sharpton said blacks need to clean up their community "so we can clean up the United States of America."

"What is required of us?" he asked. "We can't have a fit. We've got to have a movement. ... A movement means we've got to be here until the long haul."

Those listening ranged in age from infants to elderly. Isekah Dahubi, 38, came in her nurse's training uniform, skipping her last day of clinicals, which she was trying to reschedule by cellphone as she entered the sanctuary. Lillie Vinson, 78, came dressed in her Sunday best, to show support to a family she doesn't know.

Sophia Davis and her husband, Thomas, flew to St. Louis from Detroit.

"As a mother, what happened to Michael Brown scared me to my bones," Davis said. "I have a son and when he first got to college, police stopped and frisked him a couple of times for no reason. I can't imagine what I would do if something like this had happened to him."