Long lines of people of all ages and races are paying their respects as Rep. Elijah Cummings lies in state at the U.S. Capitol, the first African American lawmaker to ever receive that honor. The husband, father, brother, and member of Congress was remembered by colleagues as a “magnificent man” who fiercely advocated for justice.
Thursday morning’s somber ceremony inside the grand National Statuary Hall was private for Cummings’ family, members of Congress and invited guests. The public is welcome until Thursday evening (October 24) to view Cummings’ casket, which was escorted by U.S. military members and draped with the American flag.
Cummings’ widow, Maya Rockeymoore Cummings, Ph.D., and relatives were in attendance, as were Capitol Hill staffers and aides and lawmakers from both sides of the aisle. Baltimore Mayor Bernard “Jack” Young, Mayor Muriel Bowser of Washington D.C. and the Rev. Al Sharpton were among the invited guests. Two HBCU choirs — Morgan State University (where Cummings served on the Board of Regents) and Howard University (his undergraduate alma mater) — performed during the nearly hour-long program filled with scripture readings and spirituals.
“We have lost a member of our family,” said Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA), chairwoman of the 55-member Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) in her remarks. “He never set out to be a giant, but he became one.”
Cummings, 68, a Baltimore native who represented Maryland’s 7th Congressional District, passed away on October 17 after battling a series of health challenges. At the time of his death, the lawyer served as Chairman of the powerful House Oversight and Reform Committee, which is helping to lead the impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump.
From House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), to Senate Minority Leader, Chuck Schumer (D-NY) to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Cummings was praised for his devotion to the Constitution and a desire to uplift his constituents and all Americans.
“Like the Biblical prophet Elijah, he saw wrongdoing and spent his life working to banish it from our land,” said Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD), House Majority Leader and a longtime friend.
“Elijah Cummings viewed service in this House for what it is: an instrument by which ordinary citizens make our republic better by giving it their love, their labor, and their very best,” Hoyer said. “And, as it was said before and Elijah would repeatedly remind us when we came short of our goals and ideals: ‘We are better than this.’”
Cummings, one of seven children born to former South Carolina sharecroppers who came to Baltimore in the 1940s, is being remembered nationally and internationally. Condolences have come from as far away as Egypt, Brazil, France and Japan, his wife told mourners during a packed community celebration held Wednesday in Baltimore on Morgan’s campus.
Al Sharpton, President and founder of the National Action Network (NAN), told BET that Cummings was a dear friend. “Elijah Cummings was a leader with a great purpose who demonstrated ethics and integrity while serving Congress and his country. …His powerful legacy continues to influence young people and will last for generations,” he says. “I think I speak for all civil rights leaders when I say he will be deeply missed, and we will do our best to continue his great work.”
As the ceremony concluded on Thursday, Mrs. Cummings raised her hands and prayed over her husband’s casket. Later, members of the CBC gathered in a circle to say a final group goodbye.
On Friday morning, a wake and funeral will be held at New Psalmist Baptist Church in Baltimore where the Congressman worshipped for decades. Those confirmed to attend and speak at the public homegoing service include Cummings’ family, former presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, dignitaries, friends and residents of his beloved hometown.