A Moving Biography of George Floyd

A moving short biography of George Floyd, based on intensive research, has been published by the Washington Post.[1] Here is a summary.

Floyd’s Ancestors

“Floyd’s great-great-grandfather, Hillery Thomas Stewart Sr., spent the first eight years of his life enslaved in North Carolina, where tobacco fields financed American dynasties — and perpetuated inequality — that endured from the 19th century until today.”

“Stewart was freed in the mid-1860s, the result of a bloody Civil War that led to the emancipation of nearly 4 million Black Americans who had toiled under a brutal system of chattel slavery.”

“Despite having no formal education — teaching enslaved people to read and write was deemed illegal by the North Carolina General Assembly in 1830 — Stewart acquired 500 acres of land by the time he reached his 20s. . . .[But] Stewart lost it all when White farmers seized the land, using legally questionable maneuvers that were common in the postwar South.” Floyd’s aunt, Angela Harrison, who has maintained certain family records, said, “The land was stolen from him. He was ‘targeted’ by White usurpers due to his relative wealth. ‘They used to call him the rich nigger.’”

“Floyd’s grandparents were North Carolina sharecroppers, working farms owned by White landowners in exchange for a portion of the crop. They too fell victim to state-sanctioned discrimination and wage theft, according to Harrelson and other family members. As they raised their 14 children — including Floyd’s mother, Larcenia — they were repeatedly forced out of the shacks they rented with their labor, and regularly cheated out of their pay.”

Although they were “unable to bequeath financial wealth to their descendants, . . .[they] passed down an ethic of hard work, a reverence for education and a deep familial bond borne out of shared perseverance. . . . Larcenia and her 12 surviving siblings all graduated from high school, a source of pride for their sharecropper parents who never attended.”

The grandparents also passed down an “unshakable fear of White exploitation, and a skepticism toward a system that had treated the family’s dark skin as a permission slip for oppression.”

Floyd’s Early Years in Houston

“Floyd was born in Fayetteville, N.C., in 1973, a time when Whites-only service at restaurants and segregated seating in movie theaters were fresh wounds.”

In 1977 his mother, a single mom, and her children moved to Houston, where they lived “in a predominantly Black Houston neighborhood where White flight, underinvestment and mass incarceration fostered a crucible of inequality.”

“In the crumbling Houston public housing complex where Floyd grew up — known as The Bricks’ — kids were accustomed to police jumping from cars to harass and detain them. His underfunded and underperforming public high school in the city’s historically Black Third Ward left him unprepared for college.”

According to his younger brother, their mother “used to always tell us that growing up in America [as a Black man], you already have two strikes. And you’re going to have to work three times as hard as everybody else, if you want to make it in this world.”

“Schools  remained deeply unequal as Floyd moved through predominantly Black classrooms in the 1980s and early 1990s. . . . By the time Floyd left high school in 1993, he wasn’t academically prepared to go to college.”

“But his athletic skills earned him a place at a two-year program in South Florida before he transferred closer to home — to Texas A&M University-Kingsville, a small, mostly Latino school known as a pipeline to the NFL. Big Floyd was always talking about going to the [NFL] league. . . . Floyd, a tight end, went to practice every day, but he wasn’t making the grades or completing the credits that would have allowed him to get on the field. . . . Floyd’s time in college ended with neither a degree nor a draft into professional sports. With his two planned routes out of Third Ward blocked, he moved back to Cuney Homes in 1997.”

Troubled Years in Houston

“It didn’t take much time before he was in trouble with the law.”

“Police . . . arrested him in August 1997 for delivering less than a gram of cocaine. A judge sentenced him to six months in jail. It was the first of at least nine arrests in Harris County over the course of a decade, mostly for low-level drug crimes or theft.”

In 2004 he also was convicted for selling less than a gram of cocaine, which now is under review because the arresting officer has been charged with regularly falsifying evidence in drug cases.

“The most serious charge that Floyd faced was in 2007, for aggravated robbery with a deadly weapon. Prosecutors said the then-33-year-old [Floyd] and four others forced their way into a private home and that Floyd had held a woman at gunpoint while others ransacked the place, looking for drugs and money. After a plea deal, Floyd would spend four years at a privately run prison nearly three hours northwest of Houston. There, he largely languished, without access to vocational training or substance abuse treatment. Once jovial and confident, Floyd left prison deflated, introspective and terrified at the prospect of being locked up again, according to family members and friends.”

“Throughout his lifetime, Floyd’s identity as a Black man exposed him to a gauntlet of injustices that derailed, diminished and ultimately destroyed him.” His life, in short, “underscores how systemic racism has calcified within many of America’s institutions, creating sharply disparate outcomes in housing, education, the economy, law enforcement and health care.”

.“Floyd spent a quarter of his adult life incarcerated, cycling through a criminal justice system that studies show unjustly targets Blacks. His longest stint was at a private prison in a predominantly White town where the jail housing mostly minority inmates generated a third of the town’s budget.”

“Floyd made many mistakes of his own doing. His choices landed him in jail on drug and robbery charges, while also leaving him without a college degree and with limited career prospects. He acknowledged many of his poor decisions and tried to warn others against making them too. But for him, each misstep further narrowed his opportunities.”

“In a video he posted on social media aimed at convincing young people in his neighborhood to put away their guns, he said, ‘I got my shortcomings and my flaws. I ain’t better than nobody else.’”

“When Floyd stumbled, he fell far, ultimately battling drugs, hypertension, claustrophobia and depression.”

Floyd’s Move to Minneapolis

In 2017, at the urging of a Houston pastor, Floyd left Houston to move to Minneapolis in an attempt to leave his troubles behind him. “After arriving in Minneapolis, he enrolled in a rehabilitation program, began training to become a commercial truck driver and took up jobs working security at the Salvation Army and a Latin nightclub.”

“Floyd kept a list of goals in his house to make sure he was living a meaningful life. ‘Staying clean,’ was one of them.”

In Spring 2020 he “contracted the coronavirus and lost his security job when the pandemic forced the nightclub to close. Over Memorial Day weekend he felt better, and on May 25th told a friend he was going to run out for cigarettes and promised to call later.

Instead he was killed.

====================================

[1] Olorunnipa & Witte, George Floyd’s America: Born with two strikes, Wash. Post (Oct.8, 2020).

 

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dwkcommentaries

As a retired lawyer and adjunct law professor, Duane W. Krohnke has developed strong interests in U.S. and international law, politics and history. He also is a Christian and an active member of Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church. His blog draws from these and other interests. He delights in the writing freedom of blogging that does not follow a preordained logical structure. The ex post facto logical organization of the posts and comments is set forth in the continually being revised “List of Posts and Comments–Topical” in the Pages section on the right side of the blog.

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