We — the nation, the City of Baltimore, the State of Maryland, and the United States Congress — all suffered a tremendous loss with the passing of Chairman Elijah E. Cummings on Oct. 17.
As a lifelong advocate for justice, equality, and the truth, Elijah Cummings was the true definition of a leader and his commitment to civility and humanity were invaluable in times such as these.
To many, he was a friend and trusted colleague, but to the members of the Congressional Black Caucus, he was a respected and revered member of our family.
To me, Mr. Cummings was a mentor.
Born and raised in Baltimore to sharecroppers from South Carolina, Mr. Cummings knew firsthand the challenges of discrimination, segregation, and poverty.
At the young age of 11, he stepped into his calling by helping to integrate a local swimming pool in his neighborhood.
For his courage and his commitment to justice, he was pelted with bottles and rocks.
As throughout the entirety of his life, Mr. Cummings was not deterred by bigotry, he was not swayed by ignorance, and he was not stopped by indifference.
In fact, it was incidents at this time in his life that only strengthened his commitment to ensuring his community overcame these obstacles.
Once elected to the Maryland House of Delegates, Mr. Cummings became the youngest chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus and the first African American to serve as Speaker pro tempore.
In 1996, he was elected to serve the people of Baltimore in the United States House of Representatives. He used his powerful voice to help the poor and advocated for often controversial issues, such as needle exchange programs to help stop the spread of HIV/AIDS.
As the Chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Mr. Cummings used his gavel to speak truth to power on behalf of the American people. We watched his heartfelt passion as he fought for the rights of children separated from their families, as he fought for everyone to have healthcare, and medications that are affordable, and as he fought for everyone to have the right and access to vote.
In 2016, we watched Mr. Cummings swiftly debunk the logic behind a bill which would prevent the government from acting against businesses or individuals who discriminate against LGBTQ+ people.
As he did almost daily here in Congress and in his community, he spoke as a guided moral light for all of those gathered to listen.
As a former Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus and an active member within the Caucus, Mr. Cummings worked fiercely to uplift and empower Black people. He shared his wisdom and strength in his ongoing efforts to ensure Black Americans received equal rights and equal protection under the law.
Simply put, he was a civil rights icon concerned about our present and our future. He saw our children as the living messages that we send to a future we will never see.
“My position is we have one life to live. This is no dress rehearsal. And this is their life,” he said.
Dr. Maya Rockeymoore Cummings, Mr. Cumming’s widow and chairwoman of Maryland’s Democratic Party, told 4,000 people at his funeral at the New Psalmist Baptist Church, including two former United States presidents, that her husband was a man of great integrity
“This was a man of the utmost integrity! Do you hear me? He had integrity. And he cared about our democracy!” Dr. Cummings said. “He wanted to make sure that we left a society worthy of our children.”
The Congressional Black Caucus will continue his fight and honor his legacy by fearlessly seeking the truth and ensuring every person in this country has the opportunity to achieve their dream.
Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.) represents Culver City and parts of Los Angeles. She is also the chair of the Congressional Black Caucus.