Elijah Cummings, the longtime Democratic representative from Maryland’s 7th Congressional District, died at the age of 68 on October 17, 2019, at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. Cummings, born the son of sharecroppers, was the chairman of the House Oversight Committee and was a civil rights attorney before entering politics. He died of complications from a long battle with health problems, his wife said.
“It is with great sadness and a heavy collective heart that we announce the passing of Chairman Elijah Eugene Cummings. He was a father, a husband, a son of Baltimore, and a Statesman who served Maryland’s 7th Congressional District for more than 20 years, and served 16 years prior to that as a Delegate in the Maryland General Assembly,” the Maryland Democratic Party said in a statement announcing Cummings’ death. “Chairman Cummings will always be remembered for dedicating his life’s work to improving the lives of others, standing up for his community, and protecting our Democracy.”
Cummings wife, Maya Rockeymoore Cummings, who is the chair of the Maryland Democratic Party, said in a statement, “Congressman Cummings was an honorable man who proudly served his district and the nation with dignity, integrity, compassion and humility. He worked until his last breath because he believed our democracy was the highest and best expression of our collective humanity and that our nation’s diversity was our promise, not our problem. It’s been an honor to walk by his side on this incredible journey. I loved him deeply and will miss him dearly.”
The Maryland Democratic Party added, “Our hearts are broken over the loss of such a dynamic figure in American politics. And we ask the public and the press to allow Maryland Democratic Party Chair Dr. Maya Rockeymoore Cummings — and the rest of the Cummings family — time and space to grieve their loss.”
Here’s what you need to know about Rep. Elijah Cummings:
1. Cummings Was Born in Baltimore as One of Seven Children After His Parents Moved North to Maryland From South Carolina
Elijah Cummings was born January 18, 1951, in Baltimore, Maryland, as one of seven children to Ruth Elma Cochran Cummings and Robert Cummings. According to The New York Times, Cummings’ parents were born as sharecroppers in South Carolina and they moved north to Maryland to provide better opportunities for their family.
Cummings talked about being inspired by his mother after she died in 2018 at age 92. She worked as a housekeeper before founding Victory Prayer Chapel in Baltimore.
“On my mother’s dying bed, 92 years old, former sharecropper, her last words were, ‘Do not let them take our votes away from us,’” Cummings said at a February 2019 hearing. “She had fought and seen people harmed, beaten, trying to vote. Talk about inalienable rights. Voting is crucial. And I don’t give a damn how you look at it: There are efforts to stop people from voting. That’s not right. This is not Russia. This is the United States of America.”
Cummings’ father worked as a laborer for a chemical company for 42 years and died in 2000 at the age of 74. After his death, Cummings told The Baltimore Sun, “My father was a great inspiration to me. He taught us nothing was impossible, despite his limited education. He spent his life believing in education and emphasized that we had to be in school every day.”
Cummings, who was a member of the New Psalmist Baptist Church, told The Sun that his parents made religion an important part of his life.
2. He Graduated From Howard University & the University of Maryland School of Law & Was the First Black Speaker Pro Tem in the History of the Maryland House of Delegates
Cummings graduated from Baltimore City College high school in 1969 and went on to study at Howard University in Washington D.C. After completing his undergraduate studies in political science in 1973, Cummings entered the University of Maryland Law School. He earned his law degree in 1976.
Cummings practiced law as a private attorney for 19 years before being elected to Congress in 1996. He entered politics in 1980 as a member of the Maryland House of Delegates. From 1995 to 1996, Cummings was the Speaker Pro Tem of the Maryland House, becoming the first African-American in the state’s history to hold that position.
3. Cummings Took a High-Profile Role in the Democratic Party During the Investigation Into President Donald Trump, Including Making a Moving Statement at the Conclusion of Michael Cohen’s Testimony
Cummings took a prominent role in the Democratic Party over the past two years as he helped lead the investigations into President Donald Trump through his role as the chair of the House Oversight Committee. He was often a target of Trump’s attacks as a result.
Cummings gave a powerful speech at the end of Michael Cohen’s February 2019 testimony about Trump before the Oversight Committee.
He said, “When we’re dancing with the angels, the question we’ll be asked: In 2019, what did we do to make sure we kept our democracy intact? Did we stand on the sidelines and say nothing?”
4. He Is Survived by His Wife & 3 Children
Cummings married his second wife, Maya Rockeymoore, in 2008. She is a political consultant originally from Texas who worked in Congress for many years and became the leader of the Maryland Democratic Party in December 2018. She made a bid earlier in 2018 for governor of Maryland, but dropped out of the race after her husband was hospitalized.
Cummings was previously married to Joyce Matthews Cummings. He has three children. He is survived by two daughters, Jennifer and Aria, and a son, who he did not often speak about publicly and whose name is not known.
Cummings’ health had failed him in recent years. He said in 2017 that he was “living on borrowed time” after he underwent heart surgery, according to The New York Times.
5. Cummings Served in Congress for More Than 23 Years & His Death Has Left an ‘Irreplaceable Void,’ His Colleague From Maryland Says
Cummings served for more than 23 years in the House of Representatives, winning his first election in 1996 and going on to be re-elected 12 times.
“Chairman Elijah E. Cummings and I shared a city, an alma mater, a love of the law and a life of public service. I am deeply saddened by his passing, and my prayers today are with his family and loved ones — and the people of Baltimore,” Maryland Senator Ben Cardin said in a statement. “The death of Chairman Cummings leaves an irreplaceable void in our hearts, in our Maryland and in our Congress. Quite possibly no elected official mattered so much to his constituents. Chairman Cummings guaranteed a voice to so many who would otherwise not have one, and stood as a symbol for the heights one could reach if they paid no mind to obstacles, naysayers and hate. His commitment to his city and country was unwavering, as will be my lasting respect for him.”
Cummings’ seat, which includes about half of Baltimore City, as well as parts of Baltimore and Howard counties, in the House of Representatives will be filled through a special election set by Maryland Governor Larry Hogan. He must make a proclamation declaring a special election within 10 days of Cummings’ death, according to state law. A primary will be held within 65 days of the proclamation and a general election within 65 days of the primary.