Rep. Elijah Cummings, who represented Maryland’s 7th district for over 20 years, died on Thursday (October 17). He was 68 years old.
According to The Baltimore Sun, his hometown newspaper, the Congressman had been experiencing a number of health complications for some time. He underwent heart surgery in 2017 and more recently took time off to address other health concerns. The Sun notes that he hadn’t participated in a roll call vote on Capital Hill since September 11, 2019.
“Congressman Cummings was an honorable man who proudly served his district and the nation with dignity, integrity, compassion and humility,” Dr. Maya Rockeymoore Cummings, the Maryland Democratic Party Chair, said in a statement about her husband per NBC affiliate WBAL. “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 has been an honor to walk by his side on this incredible journey. I loved him deeply and will miss him dearly.”
Cummings was born in Baltimore in 1951, as one of seven children; his parents, who were sharecroppers, moved to the city in the late 1940s, the Sun reports. He was student body president at Howard University in Washington, D.C., and later attended the University of Maryland School of Law.
A Democrat, Cummings was first elected to the House of Representatives in 1996, after serving in the Maryland House of Delegates and working as a lawyer in his home state. During his 14 years serving in the state legislature, he would eventually become Maryland’s first Black speaker pro tempore.
As a member of Congress, he served as the chairman of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, but much of his work also centered young people in his home district, which is home to a majority of Black residents. The New York Times notes that Cummings served as chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus in 2003 and 2004.
More recently, he became a key figure in the fight against corruption, especially given his position as chair of the Oversight Committee. “I’m going to try and make people realize that in order to live the life they are living, they need to have democracy, and it’s being threatened,” he told the Washington Post in November 2018.
In July, President Donald Trump singled out Cummings and Baltimore with a series of racist insults that are in line with the hateful rhetoric he reserves primarily for Black people and other people of color. Plenty of people, including CNN’s Victor Blackwell, swiftly condemned the attacks; for his part, Cummings replied on Twitter with a thread that advocated for his constituents and went viral.
Politicians from both sides of the aisle commemorated Cummings’s legacy online following the news of his passing. “Chairman Cummings was a giant: a universally respected leader who brought profound insight, commitment, and moral fortitude to Congress,” Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) wrote. “His guidance and vision was an enormous gift. I will forever cherish his example. May he rest in power.”
Added Senator Kamala Harris, “Congressman Elijah Cummings was a fearless leader, a protector of democracy, and a fighter for the people of Maryland. Our world is dimmer without him in it.”
“We are deeply saddened by the passing of Congressman Elijah Cummings, who was a fierce advocate for civil rights and for Maryland for more than three decades,” Maryland Governor Larry Hogan said in a statement obtained by WBAL. “Congressman Cummings leaves behind an incredible legacy of fighting for Baltimore City and working to improve people’s lives. He was a passionate and dedicated public servant whose countless contributions made our state and our country better.” The Sun reports that Hogan is expected to set a special primary and general election to fill the Congressman’s seat.