Baltimore Mourns Its Native Son and Champion

The late Rep. Elijah E. Cummings' home on Madison Avenue in Baltimore Thursday. Photo by Josh Kurtz
By Samantha Hawkins

Baltimore was quiet Thursday as the city mourned the loss of its long-time champion and advocate Elijah Cummings.

The Democratic congressman passed away at the age of 68 in the early hours of Thursday morning from long-standing health challenges, according to his office.

A civil rights giant and congressman for more than 22 years, Cummings was remembered for his calm during the Baltimore riots in 2015 and for his investigations of President Trump.

But his neighbors in Baltimore also remember Cummings for his faith and his friendship.

“Elijah was the embodiment of everything we hoped to be. He was the walking testimony that your aspirations can happen,” Bishop Walter Thomas told Capital News Service. He has been pastor of the New Psalmist Baptist Church for almost 45 years, where Cummings attended every Sunday.

Cummings met Thomas in 1982 at a banquet when they were in their early 30s. They quickly became friends.

“He blossomed as a member and we grew together. He grew in politics, I grew as a minister,” Thomas said. “Watching him was watching a star just take off and go into the sky.”

Cummings served in the Maryland General Assembly, where he became the first black speaker pro tem of the House of Delegates, before running for Congress. It’s where he met Hilary O. Shelton, a lifelong friend and fellow advocate.

“The issues he was fighting for were the issues he so strongly believed in,” Shelton, the director of the NAACP’s Washington Bureau, said. He said it was hard to separate Cummings’ faith from his work.

“His work was much more than a job. It was very much a part of who he was,” Shelton said. Cummings used his voice to advocate for the needs of his district whose residents were primarily black, inner-city residents.

And although Cummings excelled in his political career,  Thomas said the members in his congregation knew him as “Brother Elijah Cummings.”

Cummings liked to be around his constituents and at his home in West Baltimore, where he went home every night after work.

Down the street from his home, artist Christopher Johnson drew a mural of Cummings on a chalkboard in Greenmount West Community Center a community center Thursday morning with the dates “1951- (infinity sign).”

“We didn’t lose him, mind you – we gained so much knowledge from this man,” Johnson said.

As Baltimore mourns Cummings’s death, the community still feels a connection to the congressman, Thomas said.

“He’s the man who works to change the world Monday through Friday, and sits with us on Sunday to be inspired by the same God that inspires us,” Thomas said. “His legacy is living.”

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