© 2024 WYPR
WYPR 88.1 FM Baltimore WYPF 88.1 FM Frederick WYPO 106.9 FM Ocean City
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Baltimoreans Say Goodbye To Elijah Cummings At His Beloved Morgan State

At 9:45 a.m. Wednesday, fifteen minutes before Morgan State University's Gilliam Concert Hall was due to open its doors, a massive line of mourners waited in line for their turn to say goodbye to Elijah Cummings.

His body was to lie in repose for most of the day at Morgan State, where he served on the Board of Regents for 19 years. The Democratic congressman and lifelong Baltimorean passed away at age 68 last week.

Ellyott Jackson, a crossing guard from east Baltimore, got in line nearly two hours early, still wearing his bright uniform.

“I respected everything he did,” Jackson said. “He stood up for the rights of other people and he helped so many, blacks and whites. No matter what color, he loved everybody.”

The rest of the line featured people of all races and ages, primarily older black folks from Baltimore or Cummings’ 7th district who came to pay their respects to a leader they grew up alongside. 

One couple, Anita and Quenton Bean of Bermuda, were inspired by Cummings from thousands of miles away. A 10-day trip to the U.S. happened to coincide with Cummings’ passing, so they came to Morgan to pay their respects.  

As baby boomers, Quenton said, the couple lived through a lot of social change, including the civil rights movement. Cummings’ leadership during that era inspired black communities throughout the world, including theirs in Bermuda, he said.

“This gentleman followed Martin Luther King and others,” he said. “We just came to pay homage.”

Every mourner WYPR spoke to said Cummings’ steady and sincere hand during social turbulence set him apart from other politicians. During the 2015 unrest, after the death of Freddie Gray in police custody, Cummings walked down North and Pennsylvania avenues with a bullhorn.

“Please, I beg you. I'm not asking,” he said. “I'm begging. It's very important that we keep the peace. We got to keep the peace.”

That moment defined Cummings, east Baltimore resident Margaret Berkeley said.  

“He was so courageous. I mean, He just had the nerve,” she said. “He was the only one that would go up there and deal with the situation, and I just loved him more for that.”

Over the years, Berkeley and her family saw Cummings engaging with people throughout Baltimore. That’s how you can identify a good leader in this city, she said.

“He did a lot for the neighborhoods, whether he was West side, East side, North side,” Berkeley said. “He was a great man, period.”

"He did a lot for the neighborhoods, whether he was West side, East side, North side. He was a great man, period."

After the concert hall opened its doors, the stream of mourners made their way inside, where Elijah Cummings, wearing a crisp, blue suit, lay peacefully.

People paused in front of his casket. Some prayed, others nodded. Many took provided tissues. A few feet away, his widow Maya Rockmore Cummings greeted and thanked them all. 

Back in the hallway outside of Gilliam Concert Hall, a few Morgan freshman watched mourners come and go. Kayla Mallory, Destinie Samuels and Ravyn Caldwell, all 18, said they were just beginning to learn about Cummings’ legacy.  

“I just thought, why not pay your respects to the person who donated a lot to the school I go to,” Caldwell said of her decision to attend the ceremony.

A professor of the young women also encouraged them to attend. That’s because he had a personal connection to Cummings -- the congressman paid for his way through college, Mallory said.

Ceremonies honoring Elijah Cummings span the rest of the week. Tomorrow, he will become the first black legislator ever to lie in state at the U.S. Capitol in Washington. On Friday, he’ll be laid to rest in his after a funeral ceremony in his beloved Baltimore at New Psalmist Baptist Church, where he worshipped regularly.

Emily Sullivan is a city hall reporter at WYPR, where she covers all things Baltimore politics. She joined WYPR after reporting for NPR’s national airwaves. There, she was a reporter for NPR’s news desk, business desk and presidential conflicts of interest team. Sullivan won a national Edward R. Murrow Award for an investigation into a Trump golf course's finances alongside members of the Embedded team. She has also won awards from the Chesapeake Associated Press Broadcasters Association for her use of sound and feature stories. She has provided news analysis on 1A, The Takeaway, Here & Now and All Things Considered.
Related Content