The congressman died on Thursday at age 68, but his legacy of democracy and advocacy lives on.
Another warrior has left us far too soon. At the age of 68, U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings passed away at Gilchrist Hospice Care – a Johns Hopkins affiliate – in Baltimore on Oct. 17. He died, according to an official statement from his office, due to “complications concerning long-standing health challenges.”
Since 1996 up until his death, Cummings served as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for Maryland’s 7th Congressional district, which includes half of his hometown of Baltimore and the majority black precincts of Baltimore County.
Throughout his long political career (he was re-elected 11 times), Cummings was a fierce advocate for civil rights and progressive legislation. When the Baltimore riots ensued following the death of Freddie Gray, he took to the streets, in-person, to call for peace and procedure.
“I had an opportunity to meet Congressman Elijah Cummings while shadowing Congressman John Conyers Jr. in Washington, D.C., in 2010,” says Michigan State Representative Sherry Gay-Dagnogo. “Like Congressman Conyers, you knew how much (Cummings) loved people. I marveled at his commitment to the issues which impact urban communities and his willingness to advocate for opportunities for children throughout urban America.”
Cummings served as chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus and, more recently, chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, making him a key feature in the Trump impeachment proceedings. Cummings may not have been one of Detroit’s sons or even one of its elected servants, but he made it his duty to be a champion for black and minority communities across the map and especially in Michigan.
“For the people of my hometown of Flint, Elijah always stood tall,” says Congressman Dan Kildee. “Elijah was one of the first members of Congress to visit Flint, afterward opening an investigation into the water crisis. I will always remember working side by side with Elijah to bring much-needed resources and justice to the people of Flint.”
Cummings practiced law for 19 years before joining Congress. He was a Howard University and Maryland University School of Law graduate. Before then, he was the son of sharecroppers, raised in the bubbling racial cauldron of 1960s Baltimore, the remnants of which could be seen in the way he governed.
During the Benghazi investigations, and in multiple scenarios afterward, Cummings sparred with fellow congressmen and senators and made sure his opinions were known, all for the sake of truth and clarity. Elijah Cummings will be remembered as a passionate politician whose devotion to bettering the black community inspired scores of legislators after him.
Detroit branch NAACP President Rev. Dr. Wendell Anthony describes Cummings as a “rock to the community and a messenger of equality.” Anthony says, “He once told me his life was a composite of pain, passion and purpose. The pain he talked about was the tragedy and strife he saw in our black communities. He exemplified the passion when you saw him conducting hearings, talking about the need for justice and the mandate to protect democracy. His purpose was fulfilled every day when it came to standing up for what he believed in.”