Cummings may be most remembered for his work as the Chairman of the Committee on Oversight and Reform, the main investigative committee in the House of Representatives. Since the Democrats took control of the House in the 2018 mid-term elections, Cummings has been front and center of Trump Administration investigations.
Cummings was born and raised in Baltimore, Maryland, where he resided until his death. His parents, the former Ruth Elma Cochran and Robert Cummings, were from sharecropper families in South Carolina and moved to Baltimore. Cummings was the third child of seven.
He was an honor student in high school, graduating from the prestigious Baltimore City College in 1969; earned his Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science from Howard University, where he entered into politics and was elected Student Government President and inducted into Phi Beta Kappa; and he continued on to the University of Maryland School of Law.
Cummings began his elected career in the Maryland House of Delegates in 1983 and he served for 14 years. He was the first African American to be named Speaker Pro Tempore. When Congressman Kweisi Mfume resigned to lead the NAACP in 1996, Cummings was elected to fill the vacancy.
Cummings was no stranger to our community and was well respected.
“He was truly a man of the people,” reflected Chestertown Councilman Ellsworth Tolliver. “He was very concerned for his own district, but more he stood for justice and trying to make a difference in the world.”
Tolliver last saw Cummings when the congressman spoke to community rally on behalf of Jesse Covin during the 2018 First District race. The event was held at Bordley Chapel A.M.E. Church in Pondtown, where Tolliver is pastor, in 2018. At that event, Tolliver witnessed the true grit of a man of action now experiencing health challenges.
“He came to speak to a small group, maybe 50, no press, no fanfare,” Tolliver remembers. “He had just been released from the hospital after a knee operation and was in a wheelchair, but when it came time to speak, he got up on his feet and remained so for two hours. You knew he was in pain, but he endured.”
“He was a great role model for a young person who seeks a life in public service,” Tolliver continued. “He believed that when things were not right ‘I am going to do something to make things better’.”
Tolliver also points to Cummings’ grace in responding to President Trump’s attacks on Baltimore: “His district is a tough place; he reflected its goodness,” Tolliver commented. “You felt that from the moment you met him.”
Kent County School Board Member Nivek Johnson fondly remembers Cummings.
“I was saddened to hear of the passing of a friend and great Marylander, ” Johnson remarked. “Congressman Cummings represented the qualities of a great citizen that influenced his work in the House of Representatives; a citizen who held his community in high regard, advocated for social justice and equality for all human beings, saw the people before partisan politics, and worked across party lines to improve our society.”
Johnson reflected back on his last conversation with Cummings, also at the Bordley Chapel event. “We were talking in the parking lot, our conversation on our current political climate, the atmosphere of the Eastern Shore, and what it means to be an African American running for a public seat,” Johnson recalled. “He ended our conversation by reminding me to keep the faith, never give up and know that there is work that still needs to be done.”
“We can all take a page from Congressman Cummings book, that page is Service above Oneself and Character before Reputation,” Johnson reflected.
Frank Kratovil, formerly a congressman from Maryland’s First District and now resident judge of the District Court of Maryland in Queen Anne’s County, served with Cummings from 2008-2010.
“In this era of political vitriol, extreme cynicism and loss of faith in our public institutions and officials, Elijah stood apart as a leader who was universally recognized as a good man and someone who was guided by principles of justice, fairness, and equality,” Kratovil remarked. “He was able to cultivate and maintain relationships even with those with whom he strongly disagreed because he respected them and their viewpoints and understood the importance of finding common ground on the pressing issues facing our state, our country, and our world.”
“As a congressman, he not only loyally and aggressively represented his district and constituency, but also recognized the responsibility of other congressmen and women to do the same with regard to theirs,” Kratovil continued. “Kim and I and our children fondly remember him campaigning with us across the First District and will miss him and his moral leadership dearly.”
Talbot County Democratic Central Committee Chair Scott Kane expressed his Committee’s sense of loss.
“The son of a sharecropper, Elijah Cummings dreamed of becoming a lawyer from a young age, Kane stated. “When he was told he would never fulfill is dreams of becoming a lawyer because he was a slow learner and a poor speaker, Congressman Cummings persevered nonetheless. He died not just an accomplished lawyer, but as Chairman of one of the most powerful committees in the U.S. House of Representatives.”
Cummings attended the annual Douglass-Tubman Dinner in May. “The walls of the Armory shook with his impassioned rhetoric – he was an incredible orator,” Kane recalled. “Congressman Cummings lived up to the high expectations set by fellow Marylanders Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman. He was a worthy speaker to our incredibly lucky audience.”
“We have lost a man of valor and uncommon decency. His light shines in our world today, casting aside any darker place. And while our hearts may be heavier today, Congressman Cummings would not want us to stop and rest – he never did.”