“Our Congress & our country has lost a champion for justice, a fighter for good, an honorable and zealous leader.” – Democratic U.S. Representative Veronica Escobar
“We are deeply saddened by the passing of Congressman Elijah Cummings, who was a fierce advocate for civil rights and for Maryland for more than three decades. Congressman Cummings leaves behind an incredible legacy of fighting for Baltimore City and working to improve people’s lives. He was a passionate and dedicated public servant whose countless contributions made our state and our country better.” – Republican Governor Larry Hogan of Maryland
“There was no stronger advocate and no better friend than Elijah Cummings. I am heartbroken for his wonderful family and staff—please pray for them. I will miss him dearly.” – Republican Representative, Member of the House Freedom Caucus, Mark Meadows
These are but a few of the comments that could be heard today following the announcement that U.S. Representative Elijah Cummings has died. People on both sides of the political chasm were deeply saddened to hear of his death. Let me tell you just a little bit about this man …
Born on 18 January 1951 in Baltimore, Maryland, his parents were sharecroppers. But Elijah rose above his beginnings, graduating from law school at the University of Maryland School of Law, receiving his J.D. in 1976. He practiced law for 19 years until 1996 when he successfully ran for the U.S. House of Representatives, where he has served tirelessly ever since. Elijah came of age in the Civil Rights era, and got his first taste of racial hatred when he was eleven years old. He and his friends were getting too big for the small, shallow public pool where they had been spending the summer of 1962 …
“As a matter of fact, it was so small, we had to wait turns to get in.”
But there was another pool, and someone they knew as “Miss Mitchell” told them they could swim there. It was Riverside Park Pool, an Olympic-size pool that was theoretically open to all, but the reality was somewhat different. So, Elijah and his friends headed over to the pool, and for a few days enjoyed swimming there. Until … hordes of arrogant white people, numbering nearly 1,000, showed up carrying signs that read “Keep Our Pool Germ Free”, “Go Back Where You Came From”, and “White People Have Rights Too”.
The mob surrounded the pool, held back by a line of police with K-9 dogs, while the kids tried to splash and play. Then, over the police officers’ heads, the mob threw rocks and bottles. One of them hit Cummings in the face, cutting his eyebrow and leaving a scar he carried all his life. Perhaps it was this that led Cummings to a lifetime of fighting for justice.
While Cummings has long been an advocate for Civil Rights, and has fought for justice since his early days, he first came onto my radar in the wake of the murder of Freddie Gray in Cumming’s district in Baltimore. He gave an impassioned speech at Gray’s funeral in April 2015, promising “we will not rest until we address this and see that justice is done.”
In early May of that year, charges were filed against the six officers who were involved in the murder of Freddie Gray, and riots erupted in the city. Elijah Cummings defused the situation, placing himself between the crowd and the police, and urging protestors to go home, to be peaceful. (Not a single one of the officers involved in Gray’s death was convicted)Former President Barack Obama paid tribute to Cummings this morning …
“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. May his example inspire more Americans to pick up the baton and carry it forward in a manner worthy of his service.”
Elijah Cummings was one of the good guys. There are too few of them left, and he will be sorely missed.