After two days of tributes to the life of Rep. Elijah Cummings, his body returned to the church he was a member of for nearly 40 years for his final farewell.
Former Presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton and other dignitaries were in attendance.
Cummings’ flag-draped casket arrived at the church Friday morning (October 25) shortly after 6 a.m., NBC reports. His casket was escorted by an honor guard of service members. Thousands of people were already lining up in front of the 4,000 seat New Psalmist Baptist Church in Baltimore.
The highly respected congressman passed away at the age of 68 on October 17 at Gilchrist Hospice Care, a Johns Hopkins affiliate in Baltimore “due to complications concerning long-standing health challenges,” a statement released by his office confirmed.
Cummings' bishop, Walter S. Thomas Jr., will deliver the eulogy during the service that is scheduled to begin at 10 a.m.
Obama and Clinton are among the scheduled speakers as well as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and former Rep. Kweisi Mfume and Cummings’ widow, Dr. Maya Rockeymoore Cummings, and his brother and daughters.
Hundreds gather in celebration and to pay their last respects to the revered congressman at Morgan State University on Wednesday (October 23).
On Thursday (October 24) morning, the congressman became the first Black lawmaker to lie in state in the U.S. Capitol, during a private ceremony for members of Congress and his relatives.
To lie in state is typically a tribute reserved for government officials and military officers.
“Michelle and I are heartbroken over the passing of our friend, Elijah Cummings,” Obama said in a statement released shortly after Cummings’ passing. “As Chairman of the House Oversight Committee, he showed us all not only the importance of checks and balances within our democracy, but also the necessity of good people stewarding it.”
The funeral began shortly after 10 a.m. Friday (October 25) morning with a packed house who stood as the choir’s voices filled New Psalmist Baptist Church in Baltimore.
“We prepare now for the requiem of a public servant,” Bishop Walter S. Thomas Jr. said.
But before giving his eulogy, he asked those in attendance to remain standing. The honor guard then draped the congressman’s coffin with the American flag.
A solo trumpet player played a somber song as attendees continued standing.
“Elijah Cummings was a churchman,” Bishop Thomas began before introducing the gospel song the revered congressman requested for his funeral service.
Biden, Pelosi and the Clintons sat alongside one another with Obama close by in the front row sitting next to Cummings’ widow, Maya.
Rev. Matthew Watley then led the church in prayer.
“We thank you for one who stayed the same wherever he was,” Rev. Watley said, adding thanks to “Ruth and Robert Cummings,” the congressman’s parents.
He described Cummings as a “rose that grew out of concrete.”
“We gather today for a homegoing celebration of a fallen soldier in the army of the Lord,” he said to rousing applause.
Senator Elizabeth Warren read a bible verse before gospel musician Bebe Winans took the stage to sing a beautiful song with many in attendance wiping away tears.
“This is a celebration,” Bishop Thomas said returning to the pulpit.
Hillary Rodham Clinton was the first speaker Bishop Thomas invited to stand at the pulpit.
“This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it. Because this is the day for the homegoing celebration of a great man a moral leader and a friend,” Clinton began.
“To the Cummings’ family to his political family from the seventh congressional district, thank you for sharing him with the world. Thank you, Maya, you walked by Elijah’s side… thank you for your leadership.”
“It is no coincidence, is it, that Elijah Cummings shared a name with a biblical prophet, like the prophet our Elijah could call down fire from heaven, but he also prayed and worked for healing, he weathered storms and earthquakes but never lost his faith. Like that prophet ... he looked out for the vulnerable among us. ... He even worked a few miracles. And he kept reminding us, life is no dress rehearsal. The American people want to live their lives without fear of their leaders.
“His can-do spirit made him a guiding light in the Congress … He liked to remind us that you can’t get caught up in who your are fighting, but what you are fighting for."
“It wasn’t really about politics with our Elijah, he led from his soul.”
She quoted Cummings’ words from Freddie Gray’s funeral, “Did you see him?”
His philosophy was simple, Clinton said, “Go out and do something.”
“Toward the end of his life, he said, ‘I am begging the Ameican people to pay attention to what is going on … we have got to guard this moment, this is our watch.’ Our Elijah knew, because he was a man of faith and a man of the church that was fleeting … that’s why he made every moment of his life count.
“I will end with a paraphrase of a poem that Elijah read during his first speech in Congress, ‘I only have a minute 60 seconds in it forced upon me I did not choose it … only a tiny little minute but eternity is it.
“Thank you, Elijah Cummings, for your work, your service and the lessons you leave us.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was next to the pulpit.
“Good morning, Baltimore,” she began. “Yesterday Maya gave us the privilege of having a celebration of Elijah’s life in the Capitol. The first African-American ever to lie in repose in the Capitol of the United States.
“Elijah brought people together in life, of different parties, and in his death, of different parties,” Pelosi said.
She acknowledged that Cummings lay in repose in the same place as Abraham Lincoln.
Like Clinton, Pelosi called him “Our Elijah,” with references to the biblical prophet he shares a name with.
“Elijah was a proud man, proud of his heritage, proud of Baltimore and proud of America,” she said.
“When we were not meeting the needs of the children in our country, he said, ‘We are better than this,’” Pelosi recalled.
“In his chairmanship, he lived up to his responsibility to hold the federal government accountable to the laws of the land,” she continued. “One word I would use to describe Elijah over and over again is the ‘future.’
“As the master of the House, he was also the mentor of the House,” she added. “He said, ‘Send me as many freshmen as you can.’”
Pelosi described Cummings’ work in “fighting for gun violence prevention, expanding opportunity for everyone, and recognizing the cost of prescription drugs,” and how it impacted vulnerable communities.
She then announced that the H.R. 3 Lower Drug Costs Now Act of 2019 is now called Elijah E. Cummings Lower Drug Costs Now Act.
“We lost two great leaders in one week in Baltimore,” Pelosi said, acknowledging her brother Tommy D’Alesandro, the former mayor of Baltimore, who died Sunday (October 20) at the age of 90 from stroke complications.
“Thank you, Maya … for sharing Elijah with us,” Pelosi said. “God truly blessed America with Elijah E. Cummings.”
The former NAACP president and CEO, and former U.S. Rep of Maryland, whom Elijah Cummings replaced, Kweisi Mfume, was next to the pulpit.
“Please accept, as you see, the collective condolences,” he said to Maya.
Mfume joked about a previous conversation he had with Cummings: “He said, ‘Now if you go before I go, don’t go up there and wing it, Kweisi,’ and then he said, ‘No, I mean really write it down.’”
He reflected on the countless conversations he and Cummings had about life and death. On one occasion, Cummings told Mfume, “Dude, I hear they’re rather filled up downstairs where you’re going so you may have to get in line.”
Mfume recalled fondly when the late congressman would call him on his birthday to tease him because Cummings was three years younger.
“And yesterday was my birthday, and I did not hear from my friend,” Mfume said.
He recalled winning his congressional seat by three votes, and with that, Cummings also poked fun.
“Kweisi, as long as you’re Black … you just remember those three votes were the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and you can’t go wrong,” Cummings told Mfume.
He also remembered how often Cummings would mention his parents as the strength for everything he did.
“He was the 20th-century manifestation of a race of people who suffered, endured and survived,” Mfume said. “He taught us how to live, and now with grace and dignity he taught us how to die.”
Cummings’ daughters were the next to speak and took to the pulpit with respect and lots of emotion for the loss of their father.
His oldest daughter, Jennifer Cummings, was first to speak
“Today I just want to say, 'Thank you, daddy,'” she began. “Over the past week, Baltimore, the nation and the world have celebrated your life. You were so many things to so many people.”
Jennifer remembered her father’s life as “one of compassion and empathy.”
“You truly saw people. And they saw you. No matter what made them different from you,” she said. “You were the gift, and I have much to be grateful for.”
She added, “Perhaps the most important title you had was dad.”
Jennifer described her relationship with her father as “an unbreakable connectedness.”
“Since last Thursday I feel like a piece has been forcefully been torn out,” she continued. “Thank you for teaching me the dual power of my brain and beauty.”
She spoke at length about how her father always wanted her to recognize her beauty, her brown beauty, that “was just as beautiful … as any color of the rainbow.”
Jennifer recalled when a classmate once called her ugly and she replied, “Well, my daddy told me I’m beautiful.”
“Thank you for also teaching me to be bold, and confident and stand in my power,” she said. “... To see the difference between blind ambition and true purpose to be called for a mission.”
She said that she was honored to go to Howard University like her father, but it wasn’t really a choice, because Cummings said no matter where she went, “his tuition checks would go to Howard.”
“You always cared what I thought. That never stopped,” she said, keeping her composure.
She remembered when her father would have her read articles from the Baltimore Sun and then summarize them. She’d also get a grade of “E for excellence.”
“Thank you for seeing me, I saw you. Thank you for nurturing me, I think I nurtured you in return,” Jennifer said. “I will miss your great big smile that could light up a room.”
From how he ate all her ice cream cones and “more than half of dessert,” Jennifer listed several thoughtful memories of her life as Cummings’ oldest child.
“We weren’t just dad and daughter, we were confidants and friends,” she said. “Daddy, I will miss that most.”
Adia Cummings, the congressman’s other daughter, followed her sister's remarks with more heartfelt memories of their father.
“My sister and I were fortunate enough to hold the highest honor, which was to call him dad,” Adia said.
“My dad would text me sometimes at 3 a.m. just to tell me he was proud of me,” Adia said. “Whenever I called he’d always answer, ‘Hi, beautiful.’”
She fondly recalled how opinionated her father was and how quick he was to “remind me at any moment that I owed him money.”
When she was going for her driver’s license test, she recalled how he made her parallel park over and over again so she didn’t get it wrong for the test, which she passed on her first try.
“I could ask him for anything, even Cardi B tickets,” and he worked hard, even from his hospital bed to ensure Adia could go see the female rapper perform.
She recalled how her dad saw her “without limitations” and encouraged other parents to do the same for their children.
“I owe it to him to not let his life’s work go in vain,” she said.
Instead of quoting his favorite poem “Just a Minute,” which he quoted during his first speech in congress, Adia quoted an Eminem song, saying, “the moment you own it you better not let it go.”
“My father seized his moment and for that, we are all are gathered here today,” she said.
After Adia, Cummings’ younger brother, James Cummings spoke and recalled lovingly how it was always a challenge to live up to his brother’s accomplishments.
He called him Bobby “for the last 64 years,” and told the audience that he’d like to refer to him that way throughout his remarks. After all, although his name was James, his late-brother always addressed him by his middle name, Al.
When his son was killed about 8-years ago, James spoke about how hurt Elijah was and wanted his nephew’s killer to be found.
Christopher Cummings was killed at the age of 20 in June 2011 after someone broke into his house and shot him and his roommate, CBS Baltimore reported at the time.
This was the second break-in as Christopher was able to fight off the trespasser, who pulled a gun, during the first break-in. So, his father, James, felt the man returned for revenge.
At the time, Elijah Cummings said the police believed the shooting was random, in an area that had many robberies were occuring, NBC Washington reported.
“This was a guy that was just a good kid,” Rep. Cummings said at the time. “He was the kind of kid that people would say, I wish I had him for a son, or a son-in-law.”
MAYA ROCKEYMOORE CUMMINGS
“Thank you,” Maya Rockeymoore Cummings said. “He loved Baltimore city.”
“Nancy Pelosi, thank you, he considered you his mentor. President Obama, he was so proud,” she said, before adding, “But you didn’t have any of the challenges that we got going on now, so his job became harder over time.”
To former President Clinton, Maya said, one of Elijah’s proudest moments was when Clinton came to his church. And former Secretary Clinton, was someone Elijah undauntingly defended.
“It got infinitely more difficult in the last moments of his life when we had personal attacks on him and his city,” Maya said, referring to Trump’s recent attacks on Cummings’ and Baltimore, which he described as a “rat-infested” place where no one would want to live.
“One thing you do not know about Congressman Cummings,” Maya said during his funeral, saying how those attacks “hurt him.”
“He felt emphatically, it was one of his greatest gifts,” she said.
“He would have told me ‘Maya, I don’t want a service at the Capitol.’ But I felt greatly that they were trying to tear him down. This was a man with the utmost integrity and he cared about our democracy, our planet, our community, he wanted to make sure that we left a society worthy of our children.
“He was a walking miracle,” she said, saying he was diagnosed with a terminal illness 20 years ago. “He was given 6 months to live 25 years ago.”
“It was my distinct honor and privilege to be his spouse,” she said.
“Just two days before he died he was in a lot of pain, he could no longer walk, and he kept saying ‘I’m tired, I’m ready to go,’” she said.
The staff at the hospital wanted to give him “sunshine therapy.”
They brought him to the top of the hospital where they land the helicopters. She described it as “God’s day.”
She said, “He looked toward South Baltimore where he grew up … and he said ‘Boy, have I come a long way.’”
Former President Bill Clinton began by thanking the bishop.
“Almost exactly 21 years ago, he invited me to New Psalmist, on the Sunday before the election,” Clinton recalled.
Against his advisor’s advice, Clinton went to the Black Baptist church in Baltimore. After all, Cummings had been in office “only about 15 minutes.”
“I just got a feeling this is something we ought to do,” he said.
“I got to listen to Elijah talk that day, talk about a lousy deal,” he said, saying how his remarks were to follow Cummings and the bishop. “At least I’m getting in ahead of President Obama today, in my old age I’m the warm-up act, I’m glad to do it.”
Clinton spoke about Elijah’s lifetime scar that he got when he was a young boy at the age of 11, trying to integrate a public pool in Baltimore and was hit in the head with a glass bottle.
“He loved the fact that his parents’ humbled lives made his a great American story,” Clinton said.
Clinton spoke of Cummings’ life’s work to defend the constitution and what it stood for.
“While doing that he made … a lot of Republican friends,” Clinton said. “I think he did it because everybody could see he was the real deal … his heart was in it.”
“You can’t run a free society if you have to hate everybody you disagree with,” he said.
“He believed that he should treat people the way he wanted to be treated,” Clinton said.
In conclusion, Clinton said, “Elijah spent his working life in the tradition of Isaiah. He went again and again and again. But I think in his lasting legacy to us we should think again about the prophet Elijah.”
He shared a bible story of the prophet Elijah standing on a mountain and wind, an earthquake, a fire came, but the Lord did not come. In the stillness, a quiet voice arose.
“I love this man,” he said pointing to Cummings’ casket. “Our Elijah be for us what he himself heard ‘the still small voice’ that keeps us going, keeps us grateful, and keeps us moving.”
Former President Barack Obama followed Clinton’s touching words and remarked on Cummings' “booming voice,” which was needed most during difficult times.
Below is the full transcript of his remarks.
“To the bishop, and the first lady, and the New Psalmist family, to the Cummings family, Maya, Mr. President, Madam Secretary, Madam Speaker, governor, friends, colleagues, staff.
"The seed on good soil, the parable of the sower tells us, stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop. The seed on good soil.
"Elijah Cummings came from good soil. And in this sturdy frame, goodness took root. His parents were sharecroppers from the South. They picked tobacco and strawberries, and then sought something better in this city, South Baltimore. Robert worked shifts at a plant, and Ruth cleaned other people's homes. They became parents of seven, preachers to a small flock. I remember I had the pleasure of meeting Elijah's mother, Ruth, and she told me she prayed for me every day, and I knew it was true, and I felt better for it. Sometimes, people say they are praying for you, and you don't know. They might be praying about you, but you don't know if they are praying for you. But I knew Miss Ruth was telling the truth.
"So they were the proverbial salt of the earth, and they passed on that strength and that grit, but also that kindness and that faith to their son. As a boy, Elijah's dad made him shine his shoes and tie his tie, and they’d go to the airport — not to board the airplanes, but to watch others do it. I remember Elijah telling me this story. Robert would say, 'I have not flied. I may not fly, but you will fly one day. We can't afford it right now, but you will fly.'
"His grandmother — as Elijah related — and as grandmothers do, was a little more impatient with her advice. Your daddy, she said, 'He’s been waiting and waiting for a better day. Don't you wait.' And Elijah did not wait. Against all odds, Elijah earned his degrees. He learned about the rights that all people in this country are supposed to possess, with a little help, apparently, from Perry Mason. Elijah became a lawyer to make sure that others had rights, and his people had their God-given rights, and from the statehouse to the House of Representatives, his commitment to justice and the rights of others would never, ever waver.
"Elijah's example: A son of parents who rose from nothing to carve out just a little something, a public servant who toiled to guarantee the least of us have the same opportunities that he had earned. A leader who once said he would die for his people, even as he lived every minute for them — his life validates the things we tell ourselves about what’s possible in this country. Not guaranteed, but possible. The possibility that our destinies are not preordained. But rather, through our works, and our dedication and our willingness to open our hearts to God's message of love for all people, we can live a purposeful life. That we can reap a bountiful harvest. That we are neither sentenced to wither among the rocks nor assured a bounty, but we have a capacity, the chance, as individuals and as a nation, to root ourselves in good soil.
"Elijah understood that. That's why he fought for justice. That's why he embraced his beloved community of Baltimore. That's why he went on to fight for the rights and opportunities of forgotten people all across America, not just in his district. He was never complacent, for he knew that without clarity of purpose and a steadfast faith, and the dogged determination demanded by our liberty, the promise of this nation can wither. Complacency, he knew, was not only corrosive for our collective lives, but for our individual lives.
"It has been remarked that Elijah was a kind man. I tell my daughters — and I have to say, listening to Elijah’s daughters speak, that got me choked up. I am sure those of you who have sons feel the same way, but there is something about daughters and their fathers. And I was thinking, I would want my daughters to know how much I love them, but I would also want them to know that being a strong man includes being kind. That there is nothing weak about kindness and compassion. There is nothing weak about looking out for others. There is nothing weak about being honorable. You are not a sucker to have integrity and to treat others with respect. I was sitting here and I was just noticing the Honorable Elijah E. Cummings and, you know, this is a title that we confer on all kinds of people who get elected to public office. We’re supposed to introduce them as honorable.
"But Elijah Cummings was honorable before he was elected to office. There's a difference. There is a difference if you are honorable and treated others honorably outside the limelight. On the side of a road; in a quiet moment, counseling somebody you work with; letting your daughters know you love them. As president, I knew I could always count on Elijah being honorable and doing the right thing. And people have talked about his voice. There is something about his voice. It just made you feel better. There’s some people, they have that deep baritone, a prophetic voice. And when it was good times and we achieved victories together, that voice and that laugh was a gift. But you needed it more during the tough times, when the path ahead looked crooked, when obstacles abounded. When I entertained doubts, or I saw those who were in the fight start to waver, that’s when Elijah's voice mattered most.
"More than once during my presidency, when the economy still looked like it might plunge into depression, when the health-care bill was pronounced dead in Congress, I would watch Elijah rally his colleagues. 'The cost of doing nothing isn't nothing,' he would say, and folks would remember why they entered into public service. 'Our children are the living messengers we send to a future we will never see,' he would say, and he would remind all of us that our time is too short not to fight for what's good and what is true and what is best in America.
"Two-hundred years to 300 years from now, he would say, people will look back at this moment and they will ask the question, '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.
"Elijah Cummings was a man of noble and good heart. His parents and his faith planted the seeds of hope, and love, and compassion, and righteousness in that good soil of his. He has harvested all the crops that he could, for the Lord has now called Elijah home, to give his humble, faithful servant rest. And it now falls on us to continue his work, so that other young boys and girls from Baltimore, across Maryland, across the United States, and around the world might too have a chance to grow and to flourish. That's how we will honor him. That's how we will remember him. That's what he would hope for. May God bless the memory of the very honorable Elijah Cummings. And may God bless this city, and this state, and this nation that he loved. God bless you.”
(Photo: Cheriss May/NurPhoto via Getty Images)