Supporters of the Talbot Democratic Party were treated to an evening of inspiration at the party’s 3rd annual Douglass-Tubman Dinner. Honored guest speaker Congressman Elijah Cummings spoke to a sold-out crowd about some of the seminal events in his life that led to his career in public service.
“People ask me, where does your passion come from?” Cummings said. “I tell them quite often my passion comes from my pain. Pain, passion, purpose.”
Cummings was born and raised in Baltimore City growing up in a family of seven children. When he started school, he was placed in special education from kindergarten through the middle of sixth grade.
“I was told I would never read or write,” he said. “I was told I was there because I talked too much.”
Cummings said that what happened to him “happened to a lot of African Americans.” Fortunately, a teacher encouraged him to go to the library after school and study.
Photo: Scott Kane (center), chair of the Talbot County Democratic Central Committee, welcomed Delegate Sheree Sample-Hughes (left), who represents Maryland House District 37A on the Eastern Shore, and Dr. Maya Rockeymoore Cummings, chair of the Maryland Democratic Party, to the central committee’s annual Douglass-Tubman Dinner.
Cummings said that it was the librarians at the Enoch Pratt Library who helped him get out of the special ed program by staying late with him when they noticed he was struggling. “They saw something in me that I didn’t even see in myself.”
In speaking of the mentors in his life, Cummings also lifted up Talbot County native and resident Walter Black, who was in attendance with his wife Clairdean. Cummings first met Black in the summer of 1962 when he was an 11-year old attending a summer day camp. Black was in his twenties at that time and serving as a field secretary for the Baltimore City Branch of the NAACP.
By 1962, Maryland law required integration of all public pools in the state. However, the summer camp group was cooling off in a small wading pool.
“It was only waist deep.” Cummings recalled. “You know we had to take turns going in.”
When the group went to swim at the much nicer pool in South Baltimore’s Riverside Park they were harassed and turned away. Black was one of the staffers selected to lead Cummings and twenty other young people in a march to integrate the Riverside Park Pool.
It was through this experience that Cummings met Juanita Jackson Mitchell as well. Mitchell was then legal counsel to the local NAACP and the first African-American woman to practice law in Maryland. When the young protesters attempted to gain access to the large Olympic size park pool, they were spit upon and threatened. Mitchell marched alongside the students and her commanding presence made quite an impression. “She is the reason I became a lawyer.” Cummings explained.
Cummings was introduced at the dinner by his friend Gene Counihan. Counihan and Cummings met while serving together in the Maryland House of Delegates for more than a decade. Counihan is now a member of the Talbot County Democratic Central Committee.
“He has 13 honorary degrees which is incredible,” Counihan noted.
Cummings began his career of public service in the House of Delegates, where he served for 14 years and became the first African American in Maryland history to be named Speaker Pro Tem.
Since 1996, Congressman Cummings has proudly represented Maryland’s 7th Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives. He currently serves as the Chairman of the Committee on Oversight and Reform.
The evening was hosted by Scott Kane, chair of the Talbot County Democratic Central Committee. In recognizing dignitaries and local elected officials, Kane invited all those in the room who ran for office in 2018 to stand for a round of applause.
“I like how he asked the losers to stand up,” Cummings said. “Losing doesn’t mean failure. It just means you’re ready to run again.”
He thanked the Talbot Democrats for their work at the local level. “We need to pull in people who want the same thing we want. That’s coalition-forming, and that’s how we stick together.”
“If you do not remember anything else I say, remember this,” he concluded. “That although you may not win every battle, we have no choice but to stand up and fight with everything we’ve got. We are at a critical moment in history.”
Proceeds of the annual Talbot County Democratic Central Committee fundraiser are devoted to supporting local candidates, registering, educating and turning out voters, and sustaining a local headquarters as a hub of Democratic activity year round.
The central committee is the official governing body of the Democratic Party in Talbot County. Chosen by democratic voters during the gubernatorial primary election, the committee consists of ten members who carry out the local business of the Democratic Party. The Democratic Central Committee also fosters party-building activity in Talbot County, including candidate recruitment and Get Out the Vote in conjunction with The Democratic Forum and the Talbot Democratic Women’s Club.
For more information and reservations, go to talbotdems.org.