“Stand up for this democracy”: My congressman, Elijah Cummings
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., speaks during a rally with lawmakers and gun violence victims to call for action on gun safety measures in Baltimore, Md., June 29, 2016. | Tom Williams / CQ Roll Call via AP

I am mourning the untimely death of Rep. Elijah Cummings who was our congressman when my wife Joyce and I lived in Baltimore. He was an unwavering progressive and, in recent months, played a leading role in exposing the criminal, unconstitutional abuses of power by President Donald Trump.

I covered Cummings as a correspondent for People’s Weekly World in Washington, D.C., and interviewed him more than once. I remember a big grassroots conference sponsored by ACORN with busloads of protesters—African-American, Latino, and white—bused in from Baltimore, many from Cummings’ own 7th Congressional District in and around Baltimore.

They were overwhelmingly poor people fighting evictions and foreclosures, police brutality, gun violence, starvation wages, lack of health care, denial of voting rights. They marched to Capitol Hill, and who came out to greet them on the Capitol steps? Elijah Cummings.

After he spoke, I asked him for an interview, and he gave me one. Cummings denounced the banks for their rip-off sub-prime loans and denounced the Republicans for blocking an increase in the minimum wage and pushing through one tax break for the rich after another.

We cheered in 2002 when Cummings voted with others against President George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq. Cummings charged that the Bush-Cheney administration had failed to deliver believable evidence that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction. The Bush-Cheney lies were exposed a few weeks after the invasion.

Cummings, the son of sharecroppers, graduated from Baltimore City College high school, from which our daughter also graduated. He went on to graduate with honors from Howard University, where my granddaughter is a professor. He served many terms in the Maryland General Assembly, where he was chair of the Black Caucus. He was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1996, replacing Kweisi Mfume when the latter stepped down to become president of the NAACP.

When police killed Freddie Gray in 2015, Cummings spoke at his funeral, asking mourners if they “saw him” before his death, saying that it would take “oceans of justice” and “rivers of fairness” to wash away the tragedy of his death. When Baltimore erupted in fury over the murder, Cummings walked the streets of the city pleading against violence and calling for the trial of Gray’s killers. A trial did take place, but every one of the police officers was acquitted.

At a Democratic National Convention, Cummings denounced the plague of killings of Black people by mostly white police officers. He drew strong applause when he told the convention, “Black lives matter.”

An Oct. 4, 2003, article in People’s Weekly World by Tim Wheeler, covering the activities of Rep. Elijah Cummings and other members of the Congressional Black Caucus opposing the war drive of President George W. Bush and the Republican Party. | People’s World Archive

Donald Trump was so enraged by the House Oversight Committee, chaired by Cummings, over its relentless investigation of presidential abuses of power that Trump ranted against Baltimore as unfit for human habitation, calling Cummings’ district “rat and roach infested.”

Cummings did not reply directly, but in a speech to the National Press Club he assailed the “racist speech” of leaders in the U.S.

Cummings struggled his entire life against racism and segregation and in support of democracy. As a student, he led a struggle to desegregate a swimming pool in Baltimore and was physically assaulted by Ku Klux Klan racists. He often told a story about the passing of his mother, who witnessed the beating of African Americans fighting for the right to vote. His mother’s dying words, Cummings said, were, “Do not let them take our votes away from us.”

Cummings seemed to foretell his own passing in his commencement speech at Morgan State University last spring: “At 68, I have now lived longer than I will live,” he told the graduates. “Your lives are in front of you, and so I beg you to go out and stand up for this democracy.”


Tim Wheeler
Tim Wheeler

Tim Wheeler has written over 10,000 news reports, exposés, op-eds, and commentaries in his half-century as a journalist for the Worker, Daily World, and People’s World. Tim also served as editor of the People’s Weekly World newspaper.  His book News for the 99% is a selection of his writings over the last 50 years representing a history of the nation and the world from a working-class point of view. After residing in Baltimore for many years, Tim now lives in Sequim, Wash.