Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), the first Black lawmaker to lie in state at the U.S. Capitol, returned home on Friday to his Baltimore district where family, friends and former presidents gathered to honor his legacy as a proponent of civil rights and government accountability.
Cummings’ funeral at the city’s New Psalmist Baptist Church, where he occupied a pew for nearly 40 years, was expected to draw thousands of mourners, including presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), who started out the service with a scripture reading of Psalm 23.
Former Secretary of State and 2016 presidential candidate Hillary Clinton was the first to deliver a personal tribute to the late congressman, punctuated by applause as she praised him for having championed “truth, justice and kindness in every part of his life.”
“He pushed back against the abuse of power, he was unwavering in his defense of our democracy,” she said. “Even his political adversaries recognized that it wasn’t really about politics for our Elijah. He led from his soul.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), a Baltimore native, followed Clinton’s speech with a testament to Cummings’ ability to embrace bipartisanship, especially when it came to his work to lower prescription drug pricing.
“Elijah brought people together in life of different parties,” she said, noting that in his death, he did the same. “He was willing to reach across the aisle, even across the Capitol and even down Pennsylvania Avenue.”
Former Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama later stepped up to the podium with remembrances of their own, honoring their longtime colleague and friend.
Among the most politically poignant speeches was that given by Cummings’ widow, Maryland Democratic Party Chair Dr. Maya Rockeymoore Cummings, who appeared to call out President Donald Trump’s smears of the congressman and his district.
“You didn’t have any challenges like we’ve got going on right now, so his job became harder over time,” she said, referring to Obama’s tenure and adding that her husband was engaged in a “fight for the soul of our democracy against very real corruption.”
At the time of his death, the congressman was chairing the House Oversight Committee, helming various probes into potential power abuses by the Trump administration. Evidently, the work provoked the president’s ire.
In July, he referred to the congressman’s majority-Black hometown as a “disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess” in a racist Twitter rant on which he refused to let up.
“I want you all to know that it was not easy,” Maya Rockeymoore Cummings said. “And it got infinitely more difficult in the last months of his life when he sustained personal attacks, and attacks on his beloved city. And while he carried himself with grace and dignity in all public forums, it hurt him.”
Elijah Cummings died on Oct. 17 at age 68 after suffering what his office described as “complications concerning longstanding health challenges.”
Though Maya Rockeymoore Cummings acknowledged that her husband had “dictated every aspect of his service” and would not have wanted to be brought to the Capitol on Thursday, she felt “very strongly that they were trying to tear him down, and we needed to make sure that he went out with the respect and the dignity that he deserved.”