Thousands of mourners and well-wishers are expected to flood the New Psalmist Baptist Church in Baltimore on Friday, Oct. 25, when funeral services for Rep. Elijah Cummings is scheduled to begin at 8 a.m.
The longtime Maryland congressman died Oct. 17 at the age of 68.
Expected among the list of attendees are former President Barack Obama and former first lady Michelle Obama, former President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, California Democratic Rep. Maxine Waters, Maryland Democratic Sen. Ben Cardin and many others.
“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,” Obama said in a statement. “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.
“And true to the giants of progress, he followed into public service, Chairman Cummings stood tallest and most resolute when our country needed him the most,” Obama said. “May his example inspire more Americans to pick up the baton and carry it forward in a manner worthy of his service.”
Born in Baltimore on Jan. 18, 1951, Cummings received a bachelor’s degree in political science from Howard University in D.C. in 1973, and a law degree from the University of Maryland in 1976.
One of seven children of working-class parents who had migrated from a farm in South Carolina, Cummings grew up in a rental house, but often recalled the family “scrimping and saving” to buy their own home in a desegregated neighborhood, according to a biography posted on blackpast.org.
When the family moved into that home in 1963, when Cummings was 12, he recalled that he had “never played on grass before.”
In 1983, Cummings won election to the Maryland State House. In 1995, he was named speaker pro tem, the highest state office ever held by an African American in Maryland.
During his 13 years in the Maryland legislature, Cummings achieved a reputation “as both a dedicated liberal and a skilled census-builder,” according to blackpast.org.
Cummings represented a predominately Black district in West Baltimore, where he was a supporter of better inner-city health care and gun control. He also worked to get private sector employers involved in partnerships with the government to enhance urban economic development and improve local schools.
Cummings helped lead the fight to ban liquor advertisements from inner-city billboards. He also led legislative efforts in the Maryland House to prevent and treat AIDS and to establish a “boot camp” program to help former prison inmates find jobs.
He pushed the connection of all schools, but especially those in minority communities, to the internet.
In February 1996, Cummings won the Democratic primary, defeating 26 Black and white opponents. Two months later and with more than 80 percent of the vote, he defeated Republican Kenneth Konder for a seat in Congress.
Elected to his 13th term in Congress in November 2018, Cummings became chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, which gave him wide-reaching authority to investigate the Trump administration.
“Those of us who called Elijah a close friend will remember him for the irony of his commanding presence in a man with such a gentle spirit,” said D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton. “His tenacity in serving his District and the nation was always on display as he led the Oversight and Reform Committee with rare bipartisan support in today’s polarized Congress. But Elijah’s service was never the full story. He held a deep respect for and maintained friendships with Republican and Democratic members alike.
“I am especially thankful to Elijah for his unceasing and principled efforts towards statehood for the residents of the District of Columbia, which he was carrying forward as chair of the committee of jurisdiction,” Norton said. “The District, his neighbor down the road from Baltimore, also held a special place in his heart after attending Howard University. As the nation remembers Elijah Cummings, may we all seek to follow Elijah’s lead and example during these polarizing times.”
Cummings is survived by his wife, Maya Rockeymoore Cummings, who is chair of the Maryland Democratic Party, and three children.