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“North Star” Elijah Cummings Eulogized In Hometown Of Baltimore

AP/Julio Cortez,


Elijah Cummings returned to New Psalmist Baptist Church for one last time on Friday. 

It's the church where he sat in the front row for the 7:15 a.m. service nearly every Sunday for about 40 years. And just as steadfast as his relationship with the church was his relationship with hometown of Baltimore, speaker after speaker reminded the congregation.



After a long workday on the Hill, Cummings would commute back home to his brick rowhouse in Madison Park. 


On Friday, his legacy of relentless advocacy and love brought luminaries and leaders from Washington, D.C. and beyond to his beloved church and hometown for a funeral that was, more than anything, a celebration of life.


“We gather today for a home going celebration,” Bishop Walter Thomas said as the ceremony unfolded, speaking on his church’s stage to an at-capacity crowd of over 4,000.

Thomas noted that Cummings had left behind extensive plans about the ceremony. 

“Some of you may be wondering why you are not doing anything, so I wanted to give you clarity,” he said wryly. 

The funeral capped off several days of tributes and honors, including a Wednesday viewing at Morgan State University and a Thursday ceremony in Washington, where Cummings became the first black lawmaker to lie in state at the National Statuary Hall of the Capitol.

More than a dozen dignitaries and family members shared remarks and memories during the ceremony.

“Thank you for teaching me the dual power of my beauty and my brilliance,” said his daughter Jennifer J. Cummings, reading a letter to her father. “Dad wanted me to understand and appreciate my blackness and truly feel that my rich brown skin was just as beautiful as alabaster or any shade of the rainbow.”  

His widow, Maya Rockeymore Cummings, dressed in white, spoke in a voice reminiscent of her orator husband's. And without naming President Trump, she spoke of the pain her husband experienced during the president’s Twitter attacks on Baltimore last summer.

“While he carried himself with grace and dignity in all public forums, it hurt him,” Cummings, chair of the Maryland Democratic Party, said. “One thing you do not know about Congressman Cummings he was a man of soul and spirit. He felt very deeply.”

She also spoke of her husband’s remarkable resilience, sharing a battle with an unnamed disease. 

“He was a walking miracle,” she said, her voice rising. “Did you know he was diagnosed with a life-threatening illness more than 25 years ago. He was given six months to live more than 25 years ago, and he kept going.” 

And with joy in her voice, Rockeymore Cummings shared the story of the sunshine therapy his medical team at Johns Hopkins Hospital gave him in his final days. On a sunny Sunday they wheeled his hospital bed to the roof of the building, next to the emergency helicopter pad, where he felt the sun and caught the breeze.

“It was a beautiful day,” she said. “It was God’s day.”

And in her husband’s last months, he had to “fight for the soul of our democracy, very real corruption,” she added.

Cummings was known by many as a national civil rights leader and an unwavering voice of moral leadership. He gained further national recognition as chair of the powerful House Oversight Committee, especially as it pursued President Trump.

But speakers did not name the president. They mostly highlighted his love of his city, his country, his family and his ability to mentor the people around him.

“Who here has been mentored by Elijah?” Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi asked, to huge applause. “He was the North Star of Congress.”

Cummings first won the 7th district seat in 1996. He was preceded by Kweisi Mfume, the former president of the NAACP and chairman of the Board of Regents at Morgan State University. Mfume remembered his close friend’s legacy to black Americans everywhere.

“He was the 20th century manifestation of a race of people who had suffered endured and survived three centuries of slavery, oppression, deprivation, degradation, denial and deprivilege, thrust from his mother's womb as he was in the middle of an evolving civil rights movement a movement -- a black renaissance,” Mfume said.

Two former presidents that Cummings had deep friendships with provided the final remarks before Bishop Scott’s eulogy. 

Former president Bill Clinton spoke about Cummings’ decency. 

“No matter how hard he fought or how passionately he argued, he tried to treat everyone the way he wanted to be treated, the way he thought Americans should be treated.” Clinton said. “You can’t run a free society if you have to hate everybody you disagree with.”

“The people of Baltimore sent him to Annapolis, and then they sent him to Washington,” Cinton said. “I’d like to thank them. They did a good thing.” 

Former President Barack Obama spoke extensively about Cummings’ parents, who were sharecroppers and Pentecostal preachers who migrated north from South Carolina to give their children a better shot at life.

“They passed on that strength and that grit, but also that kindness and that faith to their son,” he said.

When he was a boy, Cummings’ dad made him shine his shoes and tie his tie to watch others board airplanesl at what then was Friendship Airport, Obama said, telling a story the congressman shared with him. 

“‘I have not flied, and I may not fly, but you will fly one day,’” Cummings’ father told him, Obama said.

“His life validates the things we tell people about what’s possible in this country — not guaranteed, but possible.”

Amid the country’s current, divisive political climate, Obama remembered Cummings’ overall mission. In speeches, the congressman would often ask -- what did you do? 

“And hearing him, we would be reminded that it falls upon each of us to give voice to the voiceless and comfort to the sick, and opportunity to those not born to it, and to preserve and nurture our democracy,” Obama said.

After the former presidents’ remarks, Bishop Thomas delivered a stirring eulogy, walking through the ins and outs of Cummings’ remarkable life, from south Baltimore to Congress.

“Elijah would say, ‘as long as God gives me strength I'm going to be able to go back and fight another day,’ never fighting with despair never fighting with pessimism but fighting with one weapon Jesus Christ made sure he had -- and that weapon was an unshakable faith,” Thomas thundered. “‘God did not bring me this far to leave me now.’ God didn't bring our nation this far to leave us now.” 

And as the funeral concluded and pallbearers wheeled Cummings’ casket out of New Psalmist, those in the sanctuary rose to their feet and sang in joy, in grief... in community, like Cummings surely would have wanted.


Lift every voice and sing
Till earth and heaven ring,
Ring with the harmonies of Liberty;
Let our rejoicing rise
High as the listening skies,
Let it resound loud as the rolling sea.


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.
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