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Two years after George Floyd’s death, authors of new autobiography aim to humanize him

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Penguin Random House

On May 25, 2020, the world watched in shock as George Floyd laid on the ground, restrained under Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin‘s knee for nearly 10 minutes. Floyd was gasping for air and repeating his final words, “I can’t breathe.” Floyd’s death sparked a nationwide reckoning around social justice, police reform and systemic racism but the authors of a new biography say they set out to tell the story of the man behind the movement.

As recounted in His Name is George Floyd: One Man’s Life and the Struggle for Racial Justice, authors Robert Samuels and Toluse Olorunnipa embarked on an extensive research journey to humanize Floyd beyond his unknowingly impactful death.

“We knew that he was much more than the 10-minute video that everyone had seen … no one should be reduced to that,” Olorunnipa told ABC Audio. “He was a human being. He loved people. He was loved by people. And it was important for us to show his full humanity.”

With access to Floyd’s family members and close friends, and drawing on over 400 interviews, the authors’ findings include personal life details such as Floyd’s relation to a formerly affluent great-great-grandfather.

“I was surprised that there was actually great wealth in his family history,” Olorunnipa said, noting there were many revelations he found interesting. He described the grandfather’s story from “one of the wealthiest people in eastern North Carolina” to a poverty-stricken man whose descendants suffered the consequences of systemic racism.

Through that example and countless others, the authors were able to draw a direct line between Floyd’s life and the book’s other main focus: institutional racism in America.

As for Olorunnipa’s wishes for the book on the second anniversary of Floyd’s death, “We need to remember what it was about George Floyd’s death … that caused so many people to say, ‘This is not right.'”

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