A giant image of a mural of Mr. Floyd was displayed at the front of the sanctuary at North Central University — an image that was painted in recent days along a Minneapolis street near where a police officer had held his knee on Mr. Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes, even after Mr. Floyd had said, “I can’t breathe.”
At the bottom of the image in the church were the words: “I can breathe now.”
Sprays of white flowers were placed around a shiny copper coffin, and security officials, in masks because of the coronavirus, lined the stage.
More memorial services are planned to remember Mr. Floyd in the coming days — including one on Saturday in Raeford, N.C., where some of his family lives, and on Monday in Houston, where he lived for many years.
Some seats were reserved with the names of celebrities and political leaders who were expected to attend. Among them were placards for Kevin Hart, Tiffany Haddish, Gov. Tim Walz, U.S. Senators Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith of Minnesota, Martin Luther King III and the Rev. Jesse Jackson.
The event was open only to invited guests and family members, but hundreds of people gathered outside the chapel under cloudy skies. Outside on the street, T-shirts with images of Mr. Floyd and “I can’t breathe” across his mouth were on sale.
“We have to be united, even with Covid,” said Yousif Hussein, 29, who was planning to attend the memorial for Mr. Floyd.
“I have to show solidarity with George Floyd,” Mr. Hussein said.
The service, to be led by the Rev. Al Sharpton, comes a day after enhanced charges were announced against the white police officer who wedged his knee onto Mr. Floyd’s neck, Derek Chauvin, as well as the new charges against three other officers who participated in the arrest. All have been fired.
The State of Minnesota has filed a civil rights charge against the Minneapolis police force over Mr. Floyd’s death, pledging to investigate whether the department has engaged in systemic discriminatory practices.
Mr. Sharpton said he would announce a new social movement at Thursday’s memorial service and would call for federal legislation aimed at putting an end to racial injustice by the police.
Mr. Floyd’s death came after a deli employee called 911, accusing him of buying cigarettes with a counterfeit $20 bill. A video of his last moments, as three other uniformed officers did not intervene, set off protests in dozens of cities. At least six people have died in violence connected to the protests.
Mr. Floyd had been a star football and basketball player in high school in Houston, moving to Minneapolis about five years ago. Family and friends described him as happy, careful not to judge and easy to talk to.