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April 16, 2024

Hopkins reflects on Rep. Elijah Cummings’ legacy

By RUDY MALCOM | October 24, 2019

PUBLIC DOMAIN Rep. Elijah Cummings of Baltimore died on Thursday, Oct. 17 at the age of 68.

Elijah Cummings, a prominent Democrat from Baltimore, died at age 68 on Thursday, Oct. 17. The son of sharecroppers was serving his 13th term in the House of Representatives and chaired the Committee on Oversight and Reform, acting as a central figure in the ongoing impeachment inquiry against U.S. President Donald Trump. 

Cummings gained national attention for his role in the Baltimore Uprising, a series of protests sparked by the death of Freddie Gray, a black Baltimore resident who died in police custody in 2015. 

Cummings, a lifelong member of the NAACP, worked to reform housing discrimination, transportation and other issues.

Junior Peggy-ita Obeng-Nyarkoh, who is the research, history and education chair of the Black Student Union, emphasized the civil rights activist’s impact on both American history and her own personal experiences. 

“The legacy of Elijah Cummings is one that cannot be restricted and limited. After all, how does one fully explain the effect of an unrelenting purveyor of truth, justice and equity?” she said. “He’s definitely one of the many people who’s helped me come to terms with the fact that the fight for justice and equity isn’t something that will, or even should, happen overnight.”

Obeng-Nyarkoh, the daughter of Ghanaian immigrants, recalled first learning about Cummings’ achievements around the time of the 2008 Democratic National Convention.

“Even at my relatively young age, I knew that he was someone I wanted to know more about. I read up on him and his various accomplishments, such as working to integrate a segregated swimming pool in South Baltimore at the age of 11,” she said. “I instantly cemented him as an integral figure.”

According to Obeng-Nyarkoh, Cummings’ active community involvement made him a rare politician. During the Uprising, Cummings walked through West Baltimore, bullhorn in hand, in order to alleviate tensions between residents and police officers.

Obeng-Nyarkoh reflected on Cummings’ participation in the protest.

“When I think about Elijah Cummings, I think about Freddie Gray,” Obeng-Nyarkoh said. “I see him on the streets of West Baltimore, engaging with protesters, marching through the streets arm in arm, singing.”

Gray, a 25-year-old black man, died from a spinal cord injury sustained while in the custody of the Baltimore Police Department (BPD). Six officers were charged in his death; three were acquitted and charges were dropped against the other three.

Sophomore Xandi Egginton, who is from Baltimore, noted that residents’ relationship with the BPD deteriorated as a result. He praised Cummings for his leadership.

“I didn’t begin to understand what Elijah Cummings meant to Baltimore until 2015,” he said. “During that time, he empathized and mourned with the city and served as a much needed beacon of trust. Whenever crisis befell Baltimore during his years of public office, Rep. Cummings would stand strong and with undeniable integrity.”

Former U.S. Senator Barbara Mikulski of Maryland, a public policy professor and advisor to University President Ronald J. Daniels, discussed collaborating with him in a press release.

“We worked on many things together, from President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act to empowerment legislation; he was always there when you needed him. He could investigate, he could legislate, and if necessary, he could agitate,” she wrote. “America has lost a giant, the 7th Congressional District has lost a champion, and I, along with so many others, have lost a friend.”

In an email to The News-Letter, President of Hopkins Hospital Redonda Miller recalled visiting the White House two years ago to raise concerns about the impact of rising drug prices on patients at Hopkins Hospital. Cummings accompanied her to present options to address the issue. 

“Congressman Elijah Cummings was an incredible man who understood that the best solutions to any problem must be viewed through a lens of humanity. In many ways, that was his superpower,” she wrote. “I will miss him. Johns Hopkins will miss him.”

Cummings previously served in Maryland’s House of Delegates, where he became the youngest chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus and also the first African American to serve as speaker pro tempore. 

After the 2018 midterm elections, Cummings used his new position as chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform to become a prominent voice against the Trump administration. For instance, he criticized Trump’s controversial family separation policy and the child detention centers at the border. 

In turn, Trump referred to Cummings’ majority-black district as a “rat and rodent infested mess” on Twitter this July.

Cummings also fought to acquire Trump’s financial records. An aide told the New York Times that Cummings signed subpoenas from his hospital bed as recently as Oct. 11.

In an email to The News-Letter, College Democrats Co-President Ryan Ebrahimy described Cummings as a major political force.

“Rep. Cummings played a very important role in the inquiry but also throughout these past few years as well. Never once was he ever ‘content’ whenever the Trump administration tried to defend its clear abuses of power,” he wrote. “His legacy will be remembered during every step of this inquiry and beyond.”

U.S. Representative Carolyn Maloney for New York’s 12th congressional district became acting chair of the committee. According to state law, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan must announce the dates of a special primary election and special general election to fill Cummings’ seat in the district by Oct. 27. 

Mikhael Hammer-Bleich, former president of College Democrats, shared his dismay at Cummings’ passing.

“The moral status and stature that he had, going forward with the impeachment, is not something that’s just replaceable by another member of Congress,” he said. “It hurts Maryland in general because we lost a big voice.”

He noted that though 30 percent of Maryland is black, the state has never had an African American senator or governor.

According to Hammer-Bleich, Cummings’ death symbolizes a turning point in national politics.

“He also represents part of the beginning of the passing of an older generation,” he said. “This should be a wake-up call for Democrats. The next generation must come forward because these people aren’t going to be around forever.”

Mikulski conveyed Cummings’ similar sentiments.

“He was always telling us not to worry about the next election but the next generation,” she wrote.

Hammer-Bleich encouraged students to participate in campaigns once there are candidates to fill Cummings’ seat permanently.

Egginton expressed his desire for Cummings’ future successors to emulate his values and dedication. 

“I can only hope that a new generation of Baltimore City officials will recognize the gaping hole Cummings has left behind and choose not to be apathetic but, instead, to follow in his footsteps, however large they might be,” he said.

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