WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.) entered the following eulogy into the congressional record to commemorate the life of Congressman Elijah Cummings, who passed away on October 17, 2019. Congressman Cummings will lie in state in the U.S. Capitol’s Statuary Hall today, October 24, 2019.
“My heart is heavy today as we mourn the loss of Congressman Elijah Cummings. He was a powerful voice for the people of Baltimore, a champion of justice for our country, and a dear friend to me and so many others.
“I first met Elijah when he was elected to the Maryland House of Delegates, where I was the Speaker. But our lives had intersected in formative ways even before that. We both grew up in Baltimore, and shared a deep and abiding love for the city. We went to the same high school – Baltimore City College High School. And we both earned law degrees from the University of Maryland before balancing private law practices with public service in the Maryland General Assembly.
“So when I met Elijah, I couldn’t help but feel a kinship with him. But I think that was perhaps just Elijah’s power – the ability to build kinship with anyone and the commitment to do so with everyone. He was constantly searching for common ground, always looking to make human connections. As a result, he developed meaningful friendships with people all over the political, social, religious, and geographic map.
“Elijah’s talent for building consensus, as well as his work ethic and dedication to his constituents, propelled him early on to positions of leadership in the Maryland House of Delegates. There, he became the youngest ever Chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus and the first African American to be named Speaker Pro-Tempore. He served in that chamber for 14 years, during which he worked tirelessly to advance the rights and opportunities of Maryland residents.
“Then, in 1996, Elijah was elected to represent Maryland’s 7th district, including our home of Baltimore, in the U.S. House of Representatives. He filled a seat previously occupied by civil rights legacies Parren Mitchell and Kweisi Mfume, and, let me tell you, there was no person more prepared to carry on their fight for equality and freedom.
“Elijah was the son of sharecroppers who worked the same land in South Carolina where his ancestors had been enslaved. His parents moved to Baltimore to build a better life for their family, but the city was rife with racial intolerance. From a young age, Elijah faced prejudice and discrimination; he attended a segregated elementary school, and he was pelted with bottles, rocks, and jeers when he and other children integrated the local public swimming pool.
“In the face of all that hatred, he found the hope and determination to overcome every obstacle set before him so that he could rise up and lift others up, too.
“He worked diligently, excelling as an undergraduate at Howard University, going to law school even though people told him he could never become a lawyer, successfully practicing law, and then launching a career of public service that led him to the United States Congress. Elijah continued to climb until he was elected Chairman of the House Oversight Committee.
“All the while, he remained firmly based in his community. He lived in the same house in West Baltimore for more than thirty years – in the inner inner city, as he put it – and he returned home every night after a long day of work in D.C. He was known to sit on the stoop of that house and feed the neighborhood pigeons. And every Sunday, he went to church, where he was often met by a line of people waiting to share their concerns — and he would listen to them and try to help them all.
“Elijah never for a moment forgot that his purpose was to represent the folks back home in his district, to be a voice for the many who were silenced. He once said that while it was his “constitutional duty to conduct oversight of the executive branch,” it was his “moral duty” to fight for his constituents.
“And fight, he did. In the twenty-three years that he spent in Congress, he was a fierce advocate for his district, especially for Baltimore. Where others saw problems and danger, he saw opportunities and solutions. He advanced measures to improve education, to expand affordable housing, to curb addiction, to enhance public infrastructure, to promote gun safety, and to reform police practices. He worked to erase the racial and class divides that he had grown up with, so that future generations of Baltimoreans would not face the same obstacles he did.
“Although he never shied away from contentious issues, he also understood when harmony and healing where needed. After the tragic death of Freddie Gray, Elijah went to the streets to ask the citizens of Baltimore to come together and find a peaceful path forward. Then, true to form, he launched into action, pushing hard for policies and programs to help the city recover.
“Because of his heroic service to his constituents, Elijah was beloved by his community, perhaps more than any other elected official I’ve known. His loss is a devastating blow to Baltimore and to Elijah’s entire congressional district.
“But it’s not just Maryland that will feel this loss — Elijah’s passing leaves an unfillable void for the nation as a whole.
“He loved this country deeply. Elijah believed in the potential of American ideals, so he held us to the highest moral standards. In moments of moral crisis, he would famously remind whoever was listening, ‘We are better than this!’
“He was passionate about rooting out corruption, protecting our democracy, and achieving equality and freedom for all. As Chairman of the Oversight Committee, and in life, he fought for what was right, simply because it was right. And heaven forbid anyone should stand between Elijah Cummings and justice. Because, while Elijah was always calm and respectful, he was never afraid to hold someone’s feet to the fire.
“He gave every ounce of himself, up until his last day on Earth, to defending the honor of our republic. We have lost a booming voice for truth, fairness, and liberty that can never be replaced.
“I grieve for a nation without Elijah’s leadership. I know that we will hold his legacy close to our hearts, and that we will strive to follow his example of moral clarity, but the loss of Elijah Cummings has ripped a hole in the fabric of our country that cannot be fully mended.
“My thoughts and prayers are with Elijah’s wife Maya, his three children, and all of his loved ones. Know that we are mourning alongside you.
“And to Elijah – you left this world a better place than how you found it. Now it’s time to rest.”