The people of Baltimore, along with members of Capitol Hill, are mourning their longtime representative Elijah Cummings, who died on Thursday morning around 2:30 a.m. at John Hopkins Hospital from an unspecified illness. He was 68-years-old.
Cummings a highly respected politician, was the chair of the House Oversight Committee and was elected to the House in 1996. Prior to his time in congress, Cummings served as a state representative in the Maryland House of Delegates from 1983-1996.
Cummings’ constituents in congress made up Maryland’s 7th Congressional District, covering the inner-city of Baltimore and some areas of the suburbs. The majority Black district has a median household income of $60,929, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
As ranking chair in the House Oversight Committee, Cummings was a crucial player in the Trump impeachment inquiry and oversaw several of the investigations into Trump and his family’s dealings.
In July Cummings was a target of Trump’s bullying, made notable after he referred to the city of Baltimore as “a disgusting rat and rodent infected mess.” Those unfortunate words filled with racism and will forever remain in the condemnation of Trump and his divisive rhetoric which continues to conquer and divide American citizens.
Cummings responded back with dignity and reserve, putting his community up front.
“Mr. President, I go home to my district daily. Each morning, I wake up, and I go and fight for my neighbors,” Cummings wrote on Twitter. “It is my constitutional duty to conduct oversight of the Executive Branch. But, it is my moral duty to fight for my constituents.”
“Two years ago, I went to the White House to ask you to endorse my bill to let the government negotiate directly for lower drug prices,” he continued. “You told me then that you supported the legislation and that you would work with me to make it happen. I took you at your word.”
Cummings was a champion for Baltimore and often took a stance on items that were seen as forbidden and taboo before they were accepted as issues that needed to be taken on, including AIDS awareness and safe needle exchange programs to combat the rising drug crisis in his community.
Born in Baltimore to sharecroppers who fled the violent south, Cummings was able to beat insurmountable odds. In an interview with the Associated Press in 1996, Cummings revealed that a school counselor said he would never amount to anything because he was sub par and spoke too slowly.
“I was devastated,” Cummings said. “My whole life changed. I became very determined.” In the Maryland House of Delegates, he rose to become the first Black House speaker pro term and will forever be known as one of the great congressional orators.
After grade school he attended Howard University, where he became student body president.
In the months leading up to Cummings’ death, many had taken notice regarding his health as he needed a motorized wheelchair and a walker to travel the halls of congress. Cummings also suffered from shortness of breath and at times used an oxygen tank. But mentally, he still resounded with a strong voice and focus on the issues at hand for his community.
Cummings’ wife and chair of the Maryland Democratic Party, Maya Rockeymoore eulogized him in the most eloquent way, marking that he “worked until his last breath.”
“Congressman Cummings was an honorable man who proudly served his district and the nation with dignity, integrity, compassion and humility. He worked until his last breath because he believed our democracy was the highest and best expression of our collective humanity and that our nation’s diversity was our promise, not our problem,” she wrote. “It’s been an honor to walk by his side on this incredible journey. I loved him deeply and will miss him dearly.”
The two were married in 2008. Cummings leaves behind his wife Maya and three children from previous relationships.
May his family and friends be comforted in this time of grieving.