Champion of civil rights and longtime Congressman Elijah Cummings died early Thursday (Oct. 17), his office confirmed.
In a statement to the Associated Press, his widow, Maya Rockeymoore Cummings, chairwoman of Maryland’s Democratic Party, said “Congressman Cummings was an honorable man who proudly served his district and the nation with dignity, integrity, compassion and humility. He worked until his last breath because he believed our democracy was the highest and best expression of our collective humanity and that our nation’s diversity was our promise, not our problem.”
Cummings was born and raised in 1951 in Baltimore, Maryland to the parents of sharecroppers. One of six, Cummings also grew up in the days of segregation and was among the first children to integrate Riverside Park’s swimming pool in 1962. In a feature with Baltimore Magazine, Cummings shared how he would often run home to listen to Martin Luther King Jr.’s speeches on WWIN-AM radio and experiencing racism from police during the 1968 riots.
“I don’t live in the inner city. I live in the inner-inner city and there are not a lot of congressmen who grew up in the inner city, let alone still live there,” he said in 2014. “It is an important voice to bring to Congress that needs to heard.”
With this in his heart, Cummings used his life experiences (and struggles in grade school) to fuel his dreams of becoming a lawyer. He attended Howard University and majored in Political Science and would later receive his law degree at the University of Maryland School of Law.
While practicing law for over 15 years, he also became a strong voice and supporter of civil rights and the Voting Rights Act. He would go on to serve Maryland’s House of Delegates and win his congressional seat, replacing Rep. Kweisi Mfume. He served Maryland’s 7th Congressional District from 1996 until his death.
“My mother, on her dying bed, the last thing she said to me was, ‘Do not let them take away our right to vote.’ And then she died,” he told Baltimore Magazine about his will to fight for voting rights. “Why? Because she had seen the pain that people had gone through to get the vote, what it meant to see for her.”
Cummings was also a chairman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee that led multiple investigations of President Donald Trump’s actions in the White House.
Cummings’ office said the congressman died at 2:45 a.m. ET at his native Baltimore’s Johns Hopkins Hospital. He was expected to return home after an unspecified medical procedure, AP reports. Cummings faced heart and knee issues in his later years.
Cummings was a strong and notable figure in the Democratic party, especially when it came to the rights of people of color. As a longtime member of Congress, Cummings provided strength and dignity to his position, even when he was met with criticism and racism.
“Even if it seems small, there’s usually something that you can do,” Cummings said in 2014. “And this refers to helping people in my neighborhood, to my constituents, and it should apply to Congress, too. Governing is not always rocket science. If you can do something to help someone—that you can agree on—do it. And I tell you where this comes from—this goes back to my father, too.”
Cummings is survived by widow Maya Rockeymoore Cummings and his three children.