WASHINGTON, August 25, 2014 — Today is the day Michael Brown’s parents said good bye to their son.
Thousands of mourners filled the Friendly Temple Missionary Baptist Church including family, friends, celebrities and politicians. Some in attendance clapped and danced in the pews. The Brown family did not wear traditional black, but a vibrant red instead.
The predominantly white communities of the St. Louis suburbs might not understand the behavior at Brown’s funeral, but that is because they believe it is a funeral. For the attendees at the service, it was Michael Brown’s coming home ceremony.
The African-American church does not mourn the death of their loved ones at these services. Instead, it celebrates the life that they have lived.
The “coming home” or “home coming” services date back to the days of American slavery, when it was illegal for slaves to hold funerals or proper burials for their loved ones. This was in part because slaves were not allowed to gather for any reason for fear that a revolt would start.
To break these laws resulted in punishments of beatings or death.
Slave rebellions forced slave owners to make some changes, such as allowing families to live together until they were sold to separate plantations.
Once Christianity was introduced to the slaves, the slave masters allowed them to meet for religious services and funerals. The whites were horrified by the behavior of the slaves at funerals, as they danced and seemed genuinely happy.
The slaves were celebrating the going home of their loved ones. Since the slaves had no hope of a life outside of slavery and bondage, they saw death as a joyful thing. Going to be with Jesus was the only chance they would have to “go home”.
Death was an end to a miserable life, and the reward was going to heaven.
The traditions of celebrating a loved one’s home going were probably continued because African-American funeral parlors were some of the first businesses opened by freed slaves after abolition.
Since the slaves had been responsible for washing, preparing and dressing the dead of the master’s family when they died, they had learned how to care for the dead. Slaves were also the ones who were responsible for digging the graves and maintaining the cemeteries.
During the Civil War, black soldiers were given the duties of removing dead bodies from the battlefield and of keeping the records of soldiers killed in combat.
Since many of the dead soldiers were sent back home for burial, the bodies needed to be embalmed for preservation. The black soldiers were trained by military doctors to do the embalming themselves during the war.
Into the turn of the century, racism and segregation laws prevented many white funeral parlors from holding funerals for a black family.
At the going home ceremony of Michael Brown, his mother will see her son in a casket, a sight no parent should ever have to see and many tears will fall, but the service is intended to remember the good times and celebrate Michael Brown going home to heaven.