Donald V. Watkins
Elijah Cummings: Rest in Power
Updated: Oct 18, 2019
By Claire Larson, guest contributor
©Copyrighted and Published on October 18, 2019
The world has lost a true champion for democracy. He was a man who came from humble, religious means who never forgot where he came from. He was born of a laborer father whose parents were sharecroppers and a deeply religious mother who founded the Victory Prayer Chapel in the basement of their home. The church moved several times but the steadfast principle of service to the community was a constant. Of his mother, Cummings said, “Through her example, my mother taught me to lead with integrity and that service to others is the highest calling”. Cummings demonstrated those values the entire time he served in the House. It was clear to anyone listening to him that he was led by his values and beliefs rather than any corporate leash holder. He believed in what he fought for and fought strongly for what he believed in. “The issues he was fighting for were the issues he so strongly believed in. His work was much more than a job. It was very much a part of who he was,” Hilary O. Shelton, the director of the NAACP’s Washington Bureau, said. He was involved in politics for the right reason – to make a difference and to stand up for what is right.
He was a champion of the people whose fight for equality began as a young boy. At the tender age of eleven, he was left with a permanent reminder of the constant battle being waged over civil rights. He was part of a group of young black boys who attempted to integrate a public pool. They would soon discover the “public” pool, was not exactly considered public by the group of white people who also used it. They greeted these young boys with shouts of “Go back to where you came from” (a phrase reminiscent of recent words bellowed at four Congresswomen of color) and pelted them with rocks and bottles. One of those bottles hit Cummings in the face and he was left with a permanent scar across his eyebrow. The leader of the integrating group was a lawyer for the NAACP named Juanita Jackson Mitchell who was also hit by a flying object on a different day. It was her steadfast leadership that was instrumental in seeing the pool finally integrated and her example was one of the principal factors in Cummings also becoming a lawyer.
After graduating from high school, Cummings attended Howard University majoring in political science where he was elected student body president. He then went on to obtain a law degree from the University of Maryland. He became a practicing attorney and served 14 years in the Maryland House of Delegates prior to being elected to the US House of Representatives, befriending people on both sides of the aisle. In an era where Democrats and Republicans seem to be fighting like cats and dogs, Cummings had the innate ability to build bridges that benefited everyone. “He appreciated the people who put their value and trust in him, and he respected that, and you know as a partisan, as a non-partisan, but more importantly, as an American, and certainly a Marylander, you have to love him for that, and I did,” said former Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael Steele, also former chair of the Republican National Committee.
Cummings took over the House seat from Kweisi Mfume in 1996, who said of Cummings, "Common law and experience teach us that politics change people — but Elijah was a person who changed politics – he put a human face on it — he made it real." During Cummings’s tenure, he served as Chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus and later the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, taking over that position in January of this year. One of the duties of this committee is to investigate wrongdoing by the executive branch. He so strongly believed in the importance of his mission that he was still working from his hospital bed at Johns Hopkins, including leading a Democratic caucus conference call and issuing subpoenas into the investigation of Donald Trump and his policies just several hours prior to his death. As Chairman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, he launched investigations into Trump’s deals in Russia, violations of national security information in relation to Mar-A-Lago as well as Lt. General Michael Flynn and violations of the emoluments cause of the Constitution among others.
Cummings never backed down from any issue that he believed was worth fighting for. "Cummings incurred President Donald Trump's wrath because he believed in standing up to bullying at the Presidential level. Yet, he never wavered in forcefully representing the needs of his constituents. Cummings was one of the few African American elected officials in America who was not afraid to speak up for blacks in Baltimore and around the nation. He was a 'man's man'. Cummings will be sorely missed in Washington and Baltimore. What's left on Baltimore's local political scene are black officials who are nothing more than non-controversial, castrated political eunuchs," said Donald Watkins, whose late brother Dr. Levi Watkins, Jr. was a longtime political force in Baltimore.
Earlier this year, Cummings asked, “When we’re dancing with the angels, the question will be asked, in 2019, what did we do to make sure we kept our democracy intact? Did we stand on the sidelines and say nothing? Did we play games?” Elijah Cummings, you most definitely did everything possible to make sure we kept our democracy intact. For that, we are forever indebted to you. God bless you, Elijah Cummings.
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