In a vast church sanctuary filled with powerful people, Elijah Eugene Cummings was remembered Friday as a man who strove to protect American democracy but still made time to cherish his daughters, attend 7:15 a.m. Sunday worship each week and stop on the side of the road to help a motorist change a tire.
For nearly four hours, 4,000 people, including two former U.S. presidents, mourned the longtime Democratic lawmaker, the son of sharecroppers who rose from South Baltimore to Congress, said former president Barack Obama, who sat in the front row of New Psalmist Baptist Church with Maya Rockeymoore Cummings, the congressman’s widow; Bill and Hillary Clinton; and former vice president Joe Biden, a 2020 presidential candidate.
Obama, who was the last politician to speak, called Cummings “a man of noble and good heart.”
“And it now falls on us to continue his work.”
Excerpts from President Barack Obama’s Eulogy to Congressman Elijah Cummings
“I tell my daughters – and I have to say, listening to Elijah’s daughters speak, that got me choked up. I am sure those of you who have sons feel the same way, but there is something about daughters and their fathers. And I was thinking, I would want my daughters to know how much I love them, but I would also want them to know that being a strong man includes being kind. That there is nothing weak about kindness and compassion. There is nothing weak about looking out for others. There is nothing weak about being honorable. You are not a sucker to have integrity and to treat others with respect. I was sitting here and I was just noticing The Honorable Elijah E. Cummings and, you know, this is a title that we confer on all kinds of people who get elected to public office. We’re supposed to introduce them as honorable.
“But Elijah Cummings was honorable before he was elected to office. There’s a difference. There is a difference if you are honorable and treated others honorably outside the limelight.”
“And people have talked about his voice. There is something about his voice. It just made you feel better. There’s some people, they have that deep baritone, a prophetic voice. And when it was good times and we achieved victories together, that voice and that laugh was a gift.”
“But you needed it more during the tough times, when the path ahead looked crooked, when obstacles abounded. When I entertained doubts, or I saw those who were in the fight start to waver, that’s when Elijah’s voice mattered most.”
“More than once during my presidency, when the economy still looked like it might plunge into depression, when the health-care bill was pronounced dead in Congress, I would watch Elijah rally his colleagues. “The cost of doing nothing isn’t nothing,” he would say, and folks would remember why they entered into public service. “Our children are the living messengers we send to a future we will never see,” he would say, and he would remind all of us that our time is too short not to fight for what’s good and what is true and what is best in America.”
“Two hundred years to 300 years from now, he would say, people will look back at this moment and they will ask the question “What did you do?” And hearing him, we would be reminded that it falls upon each of us to give voice to the voiceless, and comfort to the sick, and opportunity to those not born to it, and to preserve and nurture our democracy.”
“Elijah Cummings was a man of noble and good heart. His parents and his faith planted the seeds of hope, and love, and compassion, and righteousness in that good soil of his. He has harvested all the crops that he could, for the Lord has now called Elijah home, to give his humble, faithful servant rest. And it now falls on us to continue his work, so that other young boys and girls from Baltimore, across Maryland, across the United States, and around the world might too have a chance to grow and to flourish. That’s how we will honor him. That’s how we will remember him. That’s what he would hope for.
“May God bless the memory of the very honorable Elijah Cummings. And may God bless this city, and this state, and this nation that he loved. God bless you.”