Crusader Staff Report
Long lines and heavier traffic hit Baltimore and Washington, D.C. this week as thousands said goodbye to Maryland Congressman Elijah Cummings, who died October 17 after a storied career in the nation’s Capitol. He was 68.
For Blacks everywhere, Cummings’ death leaves a huge void after he served as chair of the powerful House Oversight and Reform Committee.
Flags at the White House, the U.S. Capitol, and in Maryland remained at half-staff during the week of Cummings’ death.
On Wednesday, October 23, Crusader Publisher Dorothy R. Leavell spoke about Cummings after Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle gave a proclamation to honor Cummings.
Cummings was scheduled to lie in state on Thursday, October 24 at National Statuary Hall in the Rotunda at the U.S. Capitol.
It is a special honor that has been given to many late presidents, senators and prominent U.S. officials and citizens over the years. However, Cummings is the first Black politician to lie in state at the U.S. Capitol.
Architect Pierre Charles L’Enfant, Jacob J. Chestnut Jr., a Capitol Police officer killed in the line of duty and activist Rosa Parks are other Blacks who were given the honor.
Democrats and Republican Congressmen from the House and Senate were expected to attend a formal ceremony at the capitol before a public viewing was held.
A wake and funeral was scheduled for Friday, October 25, at the 4,000 seat Psalmist Baptist Church, where Cummings attended for 40 years. Bishop Walter S. Thomas Jr., the church’s pastor since 1975, was scheduled to deliver the eulogy. He predicted the 4,000-seat sanctuary will overflow with people paying respects as lawmakers from both political parties are expected to attend.
On Wednesday, October 23, Cummings lay in repose at Morgan State University, where he served on the Board of Regents. A community-wide celebration of the congressman’s life was held at the university’s Murphy Fine Arts Center.
On Saturday, October, 19, Reverend Jesse Jackson, Sr. dedicated his weekly Operation Rainbow PUSH meeting to Cummings.
Remarking on the death of the respected congressman Former President Barack Obama said, “Michelle and I are heartbroken over the passing of our friend, Elijah Cummings. As Chairman of the House Oversight Committee, he showed us all not only the importance of checks and balances within our democracy, but also the necessity of good people stewarding it. Steely yet compassionate, principled yet open to new perspectives, Chairman Cummings remained steadfast in his pursuit of truth, justice, and reconciliation. It’s a tribute to his native Baltimore that one of its own brought such character, tact, and resolve into the halls of power every day.”
Derrick Johnson, President of the NAACP noted, “as a devoted statesman to Baltimore and the civil rights movement, Representative Cummings was among the most passionate and spirited members of Congress. He demanded justice on every front and never shied away from standing up for the most vulnerable. From his days in the Maryland General Assembly to his key role in the Trump impeachment inquiry as chairman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, Congressman Cummings dedicated his life to combating oppression in all its forms — and holding oppressors accountable.”
Also among those offering tributes to Cummings was Congressman Bobby Rush. “The passing of Elijah Cummings leaves us who are left behind inspired by both his strength and his gentleness,” Rush said.
“His voice was a strong voice against evil-doers, but an even mightier voice for the disenfranchised and downtrodden. His voice was a powerful, yet sweet, inspiration to all of us — calling upon each of us to rise to our better selves.”
The son of sharecroppers, Cummings was a stellar student, graduating with honors from Baltimore City College High School in 1969. Later, at Howard University, he served as Student Government President and graduated Phi Beta Kappa in 1973 with a political science degree. After obtaining a law degree from the University of Maryland, Cummings practiced law for 19 years before he was elected to the House of Representatives in 1996. He received 12 honorary degrees from universities across the country.
When Baltimore erupted in unrest following the 2015 police custody death of Freddie Gray, Cummings took to the streets with clergy and fellow leaders to urge calm.
He became the first African American in Maryland history to be named speaker pro tem, and later rose to become chairman of the U.S. House Oversight and Reform Committee, the main investigative committee of the House of Representatives.
With Cummings’ death, there is talk of his wife, Dr. Maya Rockeymoore taking over his seat in the House of Representatives. As a potential freshman congresswoman, Rockeymoore most likely will not be given her husband’s chairmanship of the House Oversight and Reform Committee.
In the wake of Cummings’ death, New York Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney is serving as acting chair.