Elijah Cummings, Maryland congressman and prominent civil rights activist, dies at 68

Congressman Elijah Cummings speaks in Colony Ballroom of Stamp Student Union on February 19, 2015. (File Photo/The Diamondback)

Rep. Elijah Cummings, a civil rights leader known for his devotion to his hometown of Baltimore — which he represented the majority of in Congress for decades — died Thursday morning of health complications, his office said in a statement. He was 68.

A Democrat, Cummings obtained his law degree from the University of Maryland’s law school in 1976. For 23 years, he represented the Maryland’s 7th congressional district — a majority-black area that encompasses just over half of Baltimore city and parts of Baltimore and Howard counties.

The son of sharecroppers, Cummings grew up in a racially divided Baltimore. At 11, he helped integrate a local pool, and was met by bottles and rocks thrown by a white mob. He carried a scar from that attack for his entire life.

His school counselor once told him he could never be a lawyer because his family was too poor. He would later serve as student body president of Howard University, and practiced law for 19 years, before being elected to the Maryland House of Delegates, where he would become the state’s first black speaker pro tempore.

As chairman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, Cummings led multiple investigations into President Donald Trump’s personal finances.

In June, Cummings fiercely criticized Trump’s zero tolerance immigration policy that separated children from their parents at the border, accusing the administration of setting up “child internment camps.”

Trump hit back on Twitter, calling Cummings a “bully” and characterizing his district as a “rat and rodent infested” — a description lawmakers on both sides of the aisle condemned as racist.

Though Cummings did not respond directly, in a speech at the National Press Club, he denounced politicians that used “hateful, incendiary comments.”

“Those in the highest levels of the government must stop invoking fear, using racist language and encouraging reprehensible behavior,” Cummings said.

Cummings spoke truth to power, Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks said in a statement to WTOP.

“[H]e was a beacon of light and hope, and he served as a mentor and inspiration for countless elected officials, like me,” Alsobrooks said. “I know that he was impassioned by his constituents and empowered by God.”

In a statement released Thursday, Gov. Larry Hogan commended Cummings for his “legacy of fighting for Baltimore City and working to improve people’s lives,” calling him a passionate and dedicated public servant whose contributions improved the state and the country.

“You didn’t have to know Elijah personally to know he was a good, not just a great, man,” state Sen. Jim Rosapepe, whose district includes this university, wrote in a statement. “What a gift he was to all of us.”

In 2017, Cummings spoke at this university’s winter commencement, as the university awarded him an honorary doctorate degree in public service.

“You are the most important persons here tonight, because you are our future,” he told the crowd of soon-to-be graduates. “When many of us are dancing with the angels, you will have to carry on.”

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