Rep. Elijah Cummings was remembered in Baltimore on Friday with a moving and celebratory funeral that included remarks from former presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton and one-time Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, as well as an emotional message from his widow, Maya Rockeymoore.
Cummings, who died at age 68 of longstanding health problems on Oct. 17, was heavily praised as a lawmaker who put people over party and stood steadfastly in his beliefs during the service at New Psalmist Baptist Church in West Baltimore.
“His life validates the things we tell ourselves about what’s possible in this country, not guaranteed, but possible,” Obama, 58, told the crowd. “He was never complacent, for he knew that without clarity of purpose and a steadfast faith, and the dogged determination demanded by our liberty, the promise of this nation can wither.”
Obama’s speech also recognized Cummings for his relentless kindness and the lessons he instilled in being kind.
“It’s been remarked that Elijah was a kind man … I was thinking I’d want my daughters to know how much I love them, but I also want them to know being a strong man includes being kind; that there’s nothing weak about kindness or compassion,” he said. “There’s nothing weak about looking out for others. There’s nothing weak about being honorable. You’re not a sucker to have integrity and to treat others with respect.”
Rockeymoore, who sat beside Obama in the audience, took the stage as well, making several references to “difficulties” Cummings faced toward the end of his life, likely the repeated attacks he received this summer from President Donald Trump, and the emotional toll it took on him.
“I want you all to know that it was not easy. What [he] did was not easy. And it got infinitely more difficult in the last months of his life when he sustained personal attacks and attacks on his beloved city,” Rockeymoore said, growing emotional.
She continued, “And while he carried himself with grace and dignity in all public forums, it hurt him. Because one thing you do not know about Congressman Cummings [is] he was a man of soul and spirit. He felt very deeply, he was very empathetic.”
Rockeymoore, 48, relayed a recent conversation she’d had with her husband in which he told her that he did not want a service at the U.S. Capitol, something he wound up receiving on Thursday.
“I felt very strongly that they were trying to tear him down and we needed to make sure he went out with the respect and dignity that he deserved,” she said, her voice rising to a shout. “This was a man of the utmost integrity. Do you hear me? He had integrity.”
Among the many other speakers who took the podium were Mr. and Mrs. Clinton, Congressman Kweisi Mfume, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a fellow Baltimore native who remembered Cummings as the “North Star of Congress.”
Mrs. Clinton’s speech recognized Cummings for looking out for “the vulnerable among us,” and for being a “fierce champion for truth, justice and kindness in every part of his life.”
“His integrity and character, his can-do spirit, made him a guiding light in the Congress,” said Mrs. Clinton, 71. “He pushed back against the abuse of power. He was unwavering in his defense of our democracy.”
Mr. Clinton, meanwhile, praised Cummings for sticking up for his wife and others, and for giving a voice to the voiceless.
“I love this man. I loved every minute I ever spent with him, every conversation we ever had,” said Mr. Clinton, 73. “I loved his booming voice. But we should hear him now in the quiet times at night and in the morning when we need courage when we get discouraged, when we don’t know if we can believe anymore. We should hear him.”
Cummings’ daughters Jennifer and Adia spoke as well, with the former sharing a sweet letter she wrote for her “dear daddy” that included anecdotes from her childhood and fond remembrances of brunches together and Cummings’ penchant for stealing “just a bite” of her ice cream.
“You touched so many lives and that’s because yours was one not only of duty and service but one of compassion and empathy,” she said. “You truly saw people, and they saw you. … As you often said to me, thank you for just being you. You were the gift and I have so much to be grateful for.”
Adia, meanwhile, joked about being a Cardi B fan, and how, despite the fact that Cummings “didn’t really know who she was,” went out of his way to ensure she could see the rapper in concert.
“My dad not only encouraged me, he empowered me,” she said. “He made it his life’s mission to make sure every child in the country was equally equipped.”
Cummings had represented Maryland’s 7th congressional district since 1996, after being a member of the state’s House of Delegates for over a decade prior. He had recently served as the Chair of the House Oversight Committee, helping to oversee the impeachment inquiry into President Trump.
The Democrat became the first African-American lawmaker to lie in state at the Capitol on Thursday, and just the third black person to do so, the Washington Post reported, in addition to Rosa Parks and Jacob J. Chestnut Jr., a Capitol Police Officer killed in the line of duty in 1998.