By Rosaland Tyler
New Journal and Guide
Hours after the announcement of the unexpected death of Congressman Elijah Cummings, numerous tributes surfaced including one by the Rev. Dr. Bernice King, who said on her Twitter account, “Thank you. What a passionate life of passionate service and courage. My heartfelt condolences to your wife, your family, the City of Baltimore, the United States and the world. Your life blessed a multitude.”
Journalist April D. Ryan wrote in a tweet, “My heart is heavy with a flood of tears waking up to the news. . . Rest in peace my friend. May God be with your wife, your family, friends & the City of Baltimore who mourns your loss. May the Nation & the world remember your heat & your fight.”
Cummings, who, served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1996-2019, underwent an aortic valve replacement in 2017, died at Gilchrist Hospice Care at approximately 2:45 a.m. on Oct. 17, a spokeswoman said. The surgery is used to correct narrowing of the aortic valve in the heart but led to an infection that kept him in the hospital longer than expected. He was later hospitalized for a knee infection, but he said this summer that his health was fine.
Last month, he underwent a medical procedure that caused him to miss a high-profile hearing on Washington, D.C., statehood and kept him away from the House Oversight and Reform Committee, which he chairs, according to USA TODAY.
Following his health problems in recent years, he used a wheelchair to get around and braced himself with a walker when he stood.
In 2011, Cummings traveled to Hampton Roads after his 20-year-old nephew Old Dominion University junior Christopher Cummings was slain. Cummings called for increased cooperation between university and city police. Christopher Cummings’ parents, James and Rosa, said the meeting was productive. His nephew was fatally shot at the home he was renting around 5 a.m. June 10. The shooting also injured his roommate Jake Carey.
Describing his nephew’s death at the time, Cummings told The Washington Post, “I can’t even describe the pain. This was a guy who was just a good kid.” Cummings delivered the eulogy at his nephew’s funeral, which was held at Baltimore’s Victory Prayer Chapel, where his grandmother, the Rev. Ruth Cummings was a pastor.
Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, will soon issue a proclamation stating a special primary election and a special general election will be held to fill the vacancy, according to the law. However, it is not been confirmed who will seek his post.
While some news reports say his wife, Maya Rockeymoore Cummings would be a logical successor since her resume includes posts as the current chairwoman of the Maryland Democratic Party, a former candidate for governor, and the head of a public policy consulting firm. His wife, who married Cummings in 2008 and holds a doctorate in political science, released a statement Oct. 17 asking for “time and space to grieve,” and hasn’t commented about whether she would seek the 7th District seat.
Other names are being floated around including Democratic State’s Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby of Baltimore, the twice-elected top prosecutor in Maryland’s largest city. Other potential candidates include Howard County Executive Calvin Ball, seen as a rising star in the Democratic Party, and former national NAACP President Kweisi Mfume, a Democrat who held the seat before.
Farajii Muhammad, a radio show host on Morgan State University’s WEAA-FM, said phones are blowing up over who will run.
“The conversation has turned to, ‘Who’s next?’” Muhammad said. “A lot of names are being thrown out there. He was such a big figure. The expectations for that seat are sky-high.”
Cummings was born in 1951 and raised in Baltimore, where he continued to live. He was one of seven children born to Robert Cummings Sr. and Ruth Cummings, who were sharecroppers on land where their ancestors were enslaved in South Carolina. The couple married in 1945 and moved to Baltimore in the late 1940s.
“We settled in a very small house in South Baltimore where Ravens Stadium is today,” Congressman Cummings said in a 2018 Baltimore Sun interview that was written for his mother’s obituary. “For the first time, they had indoor plumbing, but it was years before we had a TV.”
His father worked as a laborer for Davidson Chemical Co. in Curtis Bay, which later became W.R. Grace & Co., for 42 years, according to his mother’s obituary. His mother, who died at age 91 in 2018, worked as a domestic.
“She worked for families in Guilford and Roland Park for $7.25 a day plus carfare, and her job gave her a chance to see how other people were living,” her son said.
He earned a bachelor’s degree in political science at Howard. He graduated from the University of Maryland School of Law and passed the state bar in 1976.
Cummings was an active member of Baltimore’s 4,000-seat New Psalmist Baptist Church, the site of his funeral on Oct. 25 with Bishop Walter S. Thomas Jr., the church’s pastor, as Eulogist. He was known to be there habitually for an early service — and was married there to Maya Rockeymoore Cummings, who was elected chair of the Maryland Democratic Party in December 2018.
“It’s been an honor to walk by his side on this incredible journey,” his wife said in a statement. “I loved him deeply and will miss him dearly.”
According to news reports, Cummings, whose body had lain in repose in National Statuary Hall at the U.S. Capitol and at Morgan State University, often spoke in recent years of the prospect of “dancing with angels”.
He is survived by his wife, Maryland Democratic Party Chair Maya Rockeymoore, and two daughters, Jennifer J. Cummings and Adia Rockeymoore. Cummings and Rockeymoore were married in 2008; the couple raised Cummings’ three children from his previous relationships.
According to news reports, Cummings had three children, a daughter he had with his first wife, Jennifer, and two children he had with women outside of marriage, Adia and a son whose name is unknown.
Both Elijah’s daughters attended his alma mater, Howard University. Jennifer earned her B.A. in journalism and public relations from Howard in 2003 before getting her master’s degree in public policy from the University of Maryland.
Adia graduated from Howard in 2016 with a degree in English.