BALTIMORE (WJZ/CBS/AP) — Rep. Elijah Cummings was eulogized as a leader with the fiery moral conviction of an Old Testament prophet Friday at a funeral that brought former presidents and ordinary people alike to the Baltimore church where the congressman worshipped for four decades.
“Our Elijah was a fierce champion of truth, justice and kindness in every part of his life,” said former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who took the stage at the New Psalmist Baptist Church to rousing applause.
Without naming anyone, she noted that Cummings had stood up against corrupt leadership, like the Old Testament prophet — a comment that elicited applause and cheers from the audience.
“It is no coincidence that Elijah shared a name with an Old Testament prophet … Like that Old Testament prophet he stood against the corrupt leadership of King Ahab and Queen Jezebel,” Clinton said.
Cummings, a black sharecropper’s son and civil rights leader who rose to power in Washington over two decades ago with his sonorous voice and powerful oratory, died Oct. 17 at age 68 while locked in political combat with President Donald Trump.
The Baltimore Democrat led multiple investigations of Trump and recently provoked the president’s anger, who lashed out at Cummings’ district as a “disgusting, rat- and rodent-infested mess” where “no human being would want to live.”
The turmoil on Capitol Hill seemed close at hand during the service.
In what sounded like a reference to the impeachment inquiry against Trump, former President Bill Clinton told the crowd, “We all know now that, at least until certain things happen, his legacy is how ardently he honored his oath to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”
“He knew that without the Constitution, the laws that were passed under it, the rights that were guaranteed by it and the abuses it was designed to prevent … he would not have been in Congress,” Clinton said, “and so he said to himself, ‘I am certain every day, I will not let this promise be sullied.'”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who as Democratic leader is overseeing the impeachment drive, took note in her eulogy of the bipartisan crowd at the church and said Cummings had the ability to work with both his fellow Democrats and with Republicans.
“Our Elijah always made a seat at the table for others,” she said.
Speaking to mourners at Cummings’ funeral Friday, former president Bill Clinton recalled the congressman’s talent for speaking and “his booming voice.”
“I love this man,” Clinton said. “I loved every minute I spent with this man.”
Clinton added that people should now be able to hear him more in the quiet.
Former President Barack Obama recalled Cummings’ humble beginnings, saying: “His life validates the things we tell ourselves about what’s possible in this country, not guaranteed, but possible.”
Obama said that when the path ahead looked difficult, that’s when Cummings’ voice mattered most.
He also noted Cummings’ upbringing as the son of sharecroppers, saying his parents passed on strength and grit but also kindness and faith.
“Elijah Cummings was a man of noble and good heart … It now falls on us to continue his work,” Obama said.
Gospel and R&B singer BeBe Winans, a favorite of Cummings, performed “Stand” as mourners sang along, stood and raised their hands. Many wiped away tears. Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren recited the 23rd Psalm at the service.
“It is no coincidence — is it? — that Elijah Cummings shared a name with an Old Testament prophet,” Hillary Clinton told the crowd. “Like the prophet, our Elijah could call down fire from heaven. But he also prayed and worked for healing. He weathered storms and earthquakes but never lost his faith.”
The widow of U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings has remembered her late husband as a man of integrity.
Maya Rockeymoore Cummings thanked mourners at his funeral Friday, noting his deep love for his congressional district and Baltimore.
She recalled his defense of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who was in the front row of the New Psalmist Baptist Church, and said he was a “man of soul and spirit” who felt very deeply.
Her voice rising, she said Cummings had the “utmost integrity” and cared deeply about our democracy, planet and community.
The casket with Cummings’s body arrived early Friday at the church. A military honor guard escorted Cummings’ body into the church.
Several hundred people had lined up outside before dawn, waiting for the doors to open so they could pay their final respects. Cummings’ casket arrived before daybreak and was placed, open, in front of the grand, 4,000-seat sanctuary.
“I felt like it was my civic duty, my responsibility to come and pay respects to a man who has done so much for Baltimore city, so much for the people, trying to keep us together,” said the Rev. Jacqueline Williams, 67, of Baltimore, as she waited in line.
Helena Mainer flew from Houston, Texas to pay her respects in Maryland.
“To me the Congressman represented what politics used to mean — respect, dignity — and I wanted to show my respect to the family,” Mainer said. “Let them know I respected the work that he’s done in Congress, so that’s why I’m here.”
Among those waiting to get into the church was LaGreta Williams, 68, of New York, who met Cummings when they were college students in Baltimore in 1969. She said the teenage Cummings was a natural leader who aspired to become Maryland’s first black governor. She recalled his deep roar of a laugh.
Williams said they remained friends for 50 years and often had lunch when she visited Baltimore.
“I think his legacy is that he was an honest person,” she said. “He wanted everyone to have an equal opportunity so that people could make better decisions for themselves, better choices.”
Bobby Trotter, a 67-year-old Baltimore resident who lives just outside Cummings’ district, recalled how the congressman helped quell tensions in the city after the rioting that erupted in 2015 over the death of Freddie Gray, a black man who suffered a fatal spinal injury during a jolting ride in a police van.
Cummings “believed in helping people, particularly people that were downtrodden. He stood up. He spoke for them,” Trotter said.
The senior pastor of U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings’ church says the civil rights leader found the strength to fight another day though his “unshakeable faith.”
Bishop Bishop Walter S. Thomas said Friday that Cummings’ last act was to bring people from all walks of life together for his funeral at New Psalmist Baptist Church in Baltimore to show them why he came to church.
Thomas says Cummings “never forgot his grounding” and came to church so that pessimism about the state of the union could “never take root in his soul.”
Cummings died Oct. 17 at age 68 of complications from longstanding health problems. A son of sharecroppers, he became a lawyer and elected official.
He represented a congressional district that includes his hometown of Baltimore since 1996 and most recently led one of the U.S. House committees conducting an impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump.
Pain. Passion. Purpose.
Over the next few days, the staff of Congressman Elijah E. Cummings will use this account to reflect upon his life and legacy.
May he rest in peace.
— Elijah E. Cummings (@RepCummings) October 24, 2019
On Thursday, he became the first African American lawmaker to lie in state in the U.S. Capitol.
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