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Elijah Cummings Funeral: Watch Obama, Clinton Eulogize Baltimore’s Favorite Son

Before the sun rose Friday, mourners lined up for a public viewing before the funeral service of Rep. Elijah Cummings at New Psalmist Baptist Church in Baltimore. The Maryland congressman and civil rights champion died Oct. 17, at age 68 of complications from long-standing health issues.
Image credit: Steve Ruark

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If there were any doubts about the indelible legacy the late civil rights advocate and Maryland Rep. Elijah Cummings left in his nearly 40 years of public service, look no further than the political luminaries who will deliver tributes at his funeral in Baltimore Friday.

Former Presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Rep. Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio, are slated to read passages from the Bible.

Kweisi Mfume, the former NAACP head whom Cummings replaced in Maryland’s seventh congressional seat in 1996, is also expected to speak. He, like the others, will share personal and professional anecdotes about Cummings.

Cummings widow, Maya Rockeymore Cummings, and other family members are also scheduled to speak.

Cummings, the chairman of the House Oversight Committee, is remembered as a fierce champion of his district, which includes large swaths inner-city Baltimore and surrounding suburbs. He died last week from longstanding health issues. He was 68.

Friday’s funeral at New Psalmist Baptist Church, where Cummings was a member for roughly four decades, is the culmination of three days of tributes in Baltimore and Washington, D.C.

Cummings lay in state on Thursday at the U.S. Capitol’s Statuary Hall. At a ceremony for lawmakers and relatives of Cummings, North Carolina Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., delivered an emotional eulogy calling Cummings “a dear friend” and spoke about what some have called an “unexpected friendship.”

“Some have classified it as an unexpected friendship but for those of us that know Elijah,” Meadows continued, “it’s not unexpected or surprising.”

He added: “Perhaps this place and this country would be better served with a few more unexpected friendships… I know I’ve been blessed by one.”

On Wednesday, a steady stream of well-wishers came to pay tribute to Cummings, who lay in repose at Morgan State University, a historically black college in Baltimore.

Cummings was born the and raised in Baltimore and lived there until his death. He was one of seven children, born to parents who were sharecroppers who worked the same land their ancestors were enslaved on.

He rose from those humble beginnings to become the dean of Maryland’s black elected officials and a leader in the U.S. Congress. After Democrats took control of the U.S. House earlier this year, Cummings became chairman of the Oversight Committee, one of three House committees leading the impeachment inquiry into President Trump.

This summer, before the impeachment inquiry was launched, Cummings defended his beloved Baltimore after President Trump disparaged the city in a series of tweets, calling it “disgusting” and “rat and rodent-infested.”

Cummings fired back at Trump, saying he goes home daily, adding, “Each morning, I wake up, and I go and fight for my neighbors.” Cummings a few weeks later invited Trump to take a personal tour of Baltimore.

“I want him to come and look at my entire city. I’ll ride with him for hours if he asked to,” Cummings said at the National Press Club in August.

That forceful defense of the city, coupled with the olive branch, Cummings displayed for many residents reflected the strength and grit that embodies many Baltimore residents. That was also on display a few years earlier.

In 2015 after the death of Freddie Gray, a young black man who died in police custody, Baltimore erupted in riots. Cummings, at the time one of the most power members in Congress, was in the streets of Baltimore with a bullhorn calling for calm.

Cummings is remembered as someone who relentlessly fought to low the prices of prescription drugs and tightening gun laws and advocating for criminal justice reform. He introduced legislation that helped protect the rights of whistleblower and bills to curb gun trafficking among other things. According to his office, Cummings often said his 2010 vote for the Affordable Care Act was the most important he ever cast.

He studied at Howard University, a historically black college in Washington, D.C., and attended law school at the University of Maryland. For a short time, he practiced law before entering politics in 1982; when he left that practice, he never looked back.

Cummings served 14 years in the Maryland House of Delegates. During that time he became the first black person in the state’s history to be named Speaker Pro Tempore. After being elected to Congress in 1996 via special election, he held that seat until his death last week.

“I thought that Elijah would make a great mayor of the city and possibly the governor of the state. But he enjoyed being a lawmaker,” former Baltimore Mayor Kurt Schmoke, told NPR last week.

“There was something about Congress that kind of kept him grounded in his neighborhood and the community,” said Schmoke who is now the president of University of Baltimore, before adding: “And he just really loved it.”

Maryland’s Gov. Larry Hogan has until Oct 28 to announce a date for a special election for Cummings’ vacant seat. According to Maryland state law, the primary election must be held at least 65 days after the governor announces the official proclamation the seat is vacant. A special general election would then take place no fewer than 65 days after that.

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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