Remembering Elijah Cummings

Photo: Associated Press

By Donald Spivey

Photo: Associated Press

Remembering Elijah Cummings

By Donald Spivey
A reflection on the unparalleled career of a true public servant, a man respected across the country and the aisles in Washington, D.C.

The entire nation should rightly be mourning the loss of Elijah E. Cummings, who passed away at 2:45 a.m. on Thursday, Oct. 17 at Gilchrist Hospice Care, part of the Johns Hopkins University Health Care System.

His death was expected since his health had been deteriorating for several years. But what he left us was a life and legacy of public service and a clarion call to do better for the most vulnerable among us.

Born Jan. 18, 1951 in Baltimore, Maryland, Elijah Cummings was the son of two former sharecroppers, Elma and Robert Cummings, who worked hard to make sure that their children would have a better life. Elijah, the third of seven children of the Cummings, excelled in every respect. He graduated from high school with honors and attended Howard University and went on from there to obtain his law degree from the University of Maryland. 

After practicing law for a decade, he next served in the Maryland House of Delegates until 1996 when he was elected to represent the 7th District of Baltimore County in the United States House of Representatives.

Elijah Cummings was a ceaseless fighter for social justice. Some will remember him best as the leader of the demonstration protesting the police killing of Baltimorean Freddie Gray. Others will remember him as a voice to bring to an end the riots in Baltimore. Still others will best recall his 23 years of dedicated public service in the U.S. House, and most recently in his role as chair of the House Oversight Committee and its inquiry into the Trump administration. The public surely remembers Chairman Cummings as he lambasted the leader of the administration’s immigration policy with his now famous retort: “We’re better than that!” 

Nothing moved Cummings more than a deep commitment to defend the most vulnerable in society, especially children. When he learned of immigrant children being separated from their parents, placed in detention camps—literally in cages—with infants and toddlers without even a change of diapers, Cummings was “sickened and outraged.” We remember his words: “We’re better than that!” As Baltimore Mayor Bernard C. Young reminisced, no one was more up in arms about injustice, especially when it happened to children, than Elijah Cummings. 

Maya Cummings, chairwoman of the Maryland Democratic Party and the wife of Elijah Cummings, confirmed that from his hospice bed he still did the work of the people and signed subpoenas demanding that two officials of the Trump administration appear before the House Oversight Committee. 

We will surely miss Elijah Cummings. 

Dr. Donald Spivey is Distinguished Professor of History in the University of Miami’s College of Arts and Sciences.