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At Michael Brown's funeral, a rallying cry


ST. LOUIS – Al Sharpton was righteous and rousing in his eulogy for slain teen Michael Brown on Monday.

"Before you get to heaven," he preached, "before you put on your long robes, before you walk down the streets, you got to deal with the streets in Ferguson and St. Louis. God is not going to judge you by your behavior in heaven, he's going to judge you by what you do on earth."

Sharpton and other speakers coupled remembrances of the black teen shot by a white police officer with a call to action that highlighted the role of civil rights at African American funerals.

Activism and calls for racial justice have long been a part of funerals for black people , says Carol Williams, part-owner of Carl M. Williams Funeral Directors and executive director of the National Funeral Directors and Morticians Association, an organization of African American funeral home directors.

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She says a history of civil rights violations against blacks, combined with funeral services that are very emotional, led to the activism that was evident at Brown's funeral Monday.

The civil rights movement has been intertwined with funeral homes since the 1960s and earlier, she says, when atrocities against blacks where commonplace.

"Go back into history and the killing of African Americans is not new," she says. "As a funeral director, you get tired of burying your children this way."

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Brown's funeral was peppered with calls for justice that family and activists said would include a fair and thorough investigation into his death.

"We are not anti-police. We respect police," Sharpton said. "But those police that are wrong need to be dealt with just like those in our community who are wrong need to be dealt with."


Benjamin Crump, a lawyer representing Brown's family, alluded to the time when the Constitution counted a slave as three-fifths of a person and demanded that Brown get "full justice, not three-fifths justice."

Mourners echoed the frustration that came from the pulpit.

Ron Davis, father of Jordan Davis, 17, who was gunned down at a Jacksonville, Fla., gas station two years ago, visited with the parents of Michael Brown and attended the funeral despite the painful memories it resurrected.

He wanted to comfort the grieving family, he said. But he added that the occasion was also an opportunity to promote change, particularly in police departments.

"Don't use a shoot-first mentality," said Davis, a button with the photo of his son pinned to the lapel of his dark suit. "We have to start going around the country and having seminars with police departments."

Monica Jackson, 55, of St. Louis, attended the funeral and burial.

More than just closure for the family, she said, she hopes Monday's events shone a light on the struggles of young African Americans in inner cities.

"It's an opportunity to raise awareness," Jackson said. "I hope we really learn to get along and trust each other."

She said that although organized protests were suspended for the day of the funeral, there will be more soon.

"There are going to be protests," Jackson said. "It's coming."

Bello reported from McLean, Va.

SOURCE:  usatoday.com
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