‘We mourn, tomorrow we organize’
SAVANNAH, Ga. (FinalCall.com) – With so much happiness resonating within the walls of Jonesville Baptist Church, one could have easily forgotten that this was supposed to be a Southern-type funeral.
On a sunny morning on the west side of Savannah, it turned out to be a celebration of the life of former Georgia death row inmate No. 657378: Troy Anthony Davis.
“I was elated that so many people came out. My prayer is that they didn’t just come out for this one day but that they will pledge to carry on the fight that my brother asked us to do,” Martina Davis-Correia told The Final Call.
“Emotionally, as a family, we’re not down and out or depressed like people usually are when they lose someone. Troy is only gone physically but his spirit is in us and we will do his work. He now has a stronger presence and a wider impact on people around the world. No need for us to be sad but the only person I’m concerned about is my son because he was close to his uncle,” said Ms. Davis-Correia.
Her 17-year-old son, De’Jaun Davis-Correia, was the only family member to speak during the service for his uncle held on Oct. 1.
“When I reflect on the times with my uncle, it was never a dull moment. You really shouldn’t be sad all the time, you should be happy, be positive and make the best of every situation. That’s the attitude my Uncle Troy instilled in me,” said Mr. Davis-Correia, a high school senior.
He further recalled how his uncle spent many hours with him on the phone assisting with homework. “Don’t let his name go in vain,” he said.
Ms. Davis-Correia said that moving forward the movement will be focused on clearing her brother’s name, fighting to end the death penalty and getting unjust laws changed. “Those who killed Troy want us to stop so they can get comfortable but we’re not going to let up on them,” she said.
A multi-racial audience of thousands filled the main sanctuary and balcony area while several dozen watched the program on big screens in an overflow room. The NAACP also streamed it live on their website.
Mr. Davis was on death row for over 20 years. Family members, lawyers, prominent leaders, grassroots activists and supporters from around the world fought up until the last minute in hopes that a stay of execution would have been granted. However, on the night of Sept. 21, Mr. Davis closed his eyes for the last time on a gurney.
Loss is just a chapter, not the whole book
Vehicles packed Montgomery Street several hours before the start of the service, while a line of people leading to the church’s front door wrapped around the parking lot. No media cameras were allowed inside.
Mr. Davis’ closed casket was flanked by two blown up images, one of him as a child and the other in a suit. Everyone received a 24-page color booklet filled with mostly images of the family’s many visits with Mr. Davis behind prison walls.
“Troy Davis turned the prison into a pulpit. He turned death row into a sanctuary. There’s some who think since Troy is gone that our fire is out. We are just getting started!” Rev. Raphael Warnock, pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, said in his eulogy.
“Loss is but a chapter but it’s never the whole book. Hold on for the whole book. Thank you to the Davis Family for schooling us on how to live on the other side of loss,” said Rev. Warnock.
Rev. Randy Loney, who frequently visited Mr. Davis, shared words from prisoners who were locked up with him prior to his execution.
“They said Troy was a good man that showed them how to be a man. They said he was an inspiration and that he mentally coached others who came to death row,” said Rev. Loney.
Attorney Jason Ewart, who was part of Mr. Davis’ legal team, said his client wanted to work with at-risk youth and that “he wasn’t a symbol, he was the soul of something bigger.”
The nearly four hour service was also filled with expressions by other advocates and passionate musical selections from various singers including award-winning gospel singer Deitrick Haddon.
Many of Mr. Davis’ family members and childhood friends told The Final Call about the man they believe has been mischaracterized by the mainstream media.
“He was a better man than what they say he was. They don’t know the full story about him. I grew up with him as a childhood friend,” said Jason Patterson of Savannah.
Atlanta resident Anthony Corley, a cousin, said, “What you see today and what you’ve seen the past couple of years, shows that he was a great man. He was an innocent man and everyone knows that. You got people from all over the world that this guy touched and loved him.”
“He was such a good man and he will be missed. I’ve known him all my life and the family. When I reflect upon him it is nothing but joy,” said Grover Thomas, who grew up in the same neighborhood as Mr. Davis.
The call for advocacy and action
Mr. Davis was convicted and sentenced to death in 1991 for the murder of Savannah officer Mark MacPhail. Seven out of the nine witnesses that originally testified against Mr. Davis eventually recanted their testimony. No murder weapon was found and no physical evidence was presented that linked Mr. Davis to the crime.
“Troy’s last words that night were he told us to keep fighting until his name is cleared in Georgia. But most important, keep fighting until the death penalty is abolished and this can never be done to anyone else,” said Benjamin Todd Jealous, CEO and president of the NAACP, during his remarks at the church.
Mr. Jealous further told The Final Call, “Today we mourn, tomorrow we organize. This is a day for the entire country to question its belief, to question the death penalty, to question whether we can afford to remain silent anymore about something that no other country in the Western world does. We have to fight on.”
“This was a story not only about one man, Troy Davis, but about everything that is broken, unjust, and deeply wrong with the death penalty and the suffering and harm it does to all who come near it,” said Larry Cox, executive director ofAmnesty International.
Amnesty International is one of the many large and small organizations who supported Mr. Davis via petitions, rallies, phone calls and social media action. During his remarks, Mr. Cox asked people at the church to sign a “Not in my name” pledge card and take a vow to fight harder.
“We have to do more than just talk about it and cheer. And now the state of Georgia believes it is over. We are here today to say it is far from over. You ain’t seen nothing yet!” said Mr. Cox.
Comedian and anti-death penalty activist Dick Gregory said the Davis family has done more for human rights than “99 percent of the athletes and entertainers. Don’t leave here today feeling down. We are the difference.”
“After we shout, we need to move to action. Troy said if this barbaric system is going to change it will be at the hands of young people,” said Edward DuBose, president of the Georgia State NAACP Conference.
“I’m just praying that this does not die after the ceremony ends and that we continue to fight. I hope that we have learned from Troy’s death that, as the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan has stated, we cannot look to this system for justice. We must look to the God of Justice and put our trust in Him,” said Nation of Islam Student Minister Abdul Sharrieff Muhammad of Atlanta.
Jaribu Hill, executive director of the Mississippi Worker’s Center for Human Rights, told The Final Call, “We are here to show solidarity and to say the fight continues. This is an example of yet another state sponsored killing. We have to fight harder.”
“I believe this tragedy and today’s services has fueled the people of Savannah to fight even harder to end the death penalty,” said Jamie Muhammad, the local NOI study group student minister.
During the call-and-response litany of justice read at the service, the audience said in unison, “When we say, ‘I am Troy Davis,’ it means we profess that we, too, are foot soldiers, united in the army of justice, never retreating, but pressing on until victory is won.”
At the conclusion of the funeral, hundreds filled the streets outside the church chanting, “I am Troy Davis!”
Mr. Davis body was laid to rest, but he’s celebrated as a martyr.
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