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“Elijah Cummings came from good soil,” former President Barack Obama said in his eulogy. “A leader who once said he’d die for his people even as he lived every minute for them. His life validates the things we tell ourselves about what’s possible in this country — not guaranteed, but possible.”
Obama went on to say that while hearing Cummings’ daughters speak at the funeral, “I was thinking I’d want my daughters to know how much I love them, but I’d also want them to know that being a strong man also means being kind, that there’s nothing weak about kindness and compassion. 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.”
As those who were close to him also shared, Obama said Cummings treated people with the same respect whether it was in the public eye or in private life.
“Elijah Cummings was honorable before he was elected to office. There’s a difference. There’s a difference if you are honorable and treated others honorably outside the limelight,” he said.
Former President Bill Clinton remembered the kindness and selfless character that Cummings left with him and the people of Baltimore.
“Elijah Cummings spend his whole life saying, ‘Send me,'” he said. “Everybody could see he was the real deal. … No matter how hard he fought and how hard he argued, he treated everybody how he wanted to be treated.”
Looking at Cummings’ casket, Clinton pointed down and said, “I love this man. I love every minute I ever spent with him, every conversation we ever had, I love his booming voice, but we should hear him now in the quiet times at night and in the morning when we need courage.”
Referring to the Prophet Elijah hearing God’s “still, small voice,” as the story is recounted in the Bible, Clinton continued, “When we get discouraged and don’t know if we can believe anymore, we should hear him. Let our Elijah be, for us, what he himself heard: the still, small voice that keeps us going, keeps us grateful, keeps us happy, and keeps us moving.”
The ceremony began with Bishop Walter S. Thomas Jr. of New Psalmist having a moment of silence as a military honor guard unfolded an American flag across Cummings’ casket. Pictures of Cummings throughout his career hung on a sprawling stage behind the speaker’s podium.
Senator and presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren delivered readings from the Old Testament as one of the first politicians invited to speak at the ceremony.
Following the brief readings, one of Cummings favorite lyrical artists, BeBe Winas, sang along with the New Psalms Choir, bringing the audience to their feet.
Former Secretary of State Clinton first offered her condolences to Cummings’ wife, Maya and reflected on his legacy, comparing him to the Elijah of the Bible.
“Like the prophet, our Elijah could call down fire from heaven — but he also prayed and worked for healing,” she said.
To a long applause, Clinton added, “Like that Old Testament prophet, he stood against corrupt leadership of King Ahab and Queen Jezebel.”
Hillary Clinton on Elijah Cummings: “Like the prophet, our Elijah could call down fire from heaven—but he also prayed and worked for healing…
“Our Elijah was a fierce champion for truth, justice and kindness in every part of his life,” Clinton also said of the congressman. “His integrity and character, his can-do spirit made him a guiding light in the Congress. He pushed back against the abuse of power; he was unwavering in his defense of our democracy.”
After being met with an extended applause, Baltimore native and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi spoke of his character as a leader and mentor and of his commitment to help future generations.
“One word I would use to describe Elijah over and over again is the word ‘future.’ He was there to make the future for our children, who he called, as has been said, our living message to a future we will never see,” she said.
Former Rep. Kweisi Mfume of Maryland, a former president and CEO of the NAACP, followed Pelosi and reminisced on his personal, lifelong relationship with Cummings.
“So what shall we say of him long after that last pebble of dirt is tossed to seal his grave?” he said. “Above all, to those who knew and loved him, he was simply a good man with a good heart.”
Mentor and friend Larry Gibson, who befriended Cummings in law school, told the audience that the Cummings we saw in public was the same man in private life, as well.
“There was nothing phony about him … Elijah was kind and respectful to people in life,” he said. “He felt hurt when he thought he unintentionally offended someone.”
As Cummings regularly attended New Psalms Baptist Church in Baltimore, Deaconess Margaret Ann Howie discussed his commitment to their house of worship. She said that with his dedication to the church, he brought his friends along with him, including former President Clinton, who was in attendance.
Following another passionate song from the New Psalmist Choir, Cummings’ daughter, Jennifer Cummings, read a letter she wrote to her father to thank him for everything he taught her, saying she “knew this day would come” but “never thought it would be so soon.”
“Thank you for teaching me the dual power of my beauty and my brilliance,” she said, going on to explain, “Dad wanted me to understand and appreciate my blackness and truly feel that my rich, brown skin was just as beautiful as alabaster or any shade of the rainbow.”
“Daddy, thank you for seeing me,” she said. “Thank you for loving me unconditionally.”
Jennifer’s sister and Cummings younger daughter, Adia, called on his congressional staff to stand up and she thanked them.
“The way that you loved my father means the world to me.” she said. “He believed in me and believed in my dreams as if they were already a reality. He was genuinely committed to my happiness at all times.”
Elijah’s brother, James Cummings, followed Jennifer and Adia, and he also expressed his gratitude for all who have honored his brother.
“The one thing you cannot get back is time,” he said. “All of you have given up your time just to honor my brother and for that I am eternally grateful.”
As a man dedicated to the future and helping the next generation, Cummings was committed as a mentor.
Jon Alexander and Leana Wen, mentees of Elijah Cummings, honored his memory by encouraging audience members to be a mentor to someone else.
“We’ve lost a giant and an incredible friend,” Alexander said. “I will miss his wisdom and compassion.”
Wen went on to recall the words Congressman Cummings shared with her: “I want you to replace me someday.”
One of Cummings’ congressional staffers, Harry Spikes, admitted that Cummings was more than a boss, he was a beloved friend.
“I learned more from watching the congressman that I did in conversation,” he said, recalling the lessons Cummings would instill in his staffers. “Be the foundation for your friend when your house collapses and be the roof for your friend when the rain comes.”
Cummings’ wife, Dr. Maya Rockeymoore-Cummings, approached the podium to a raucous applause. She began by thanking everyone in attendance, and she also reflected on the criticism he received in the final days of his life.
“While he carried himself with grace and dignity, in all public forums, it hurt him. He was a man of soul and spirit. … He was very empathetic it was one of his greatest gifts,” she said. “He cared about our democracy. He cared about leaving a society fit for our children.”
Cummings’ funeral comes a day after a ceremony in Washington, where he became the first African American lawmaker to lie in state at the U.S. Capitol.
Washington lawmakers from both sides of the aisle and members of Cummings’ family filled Statuary Hall inside the Capitol to pay their respects to the long-serving congressman. Democrats and Republicans put their differences aside as they remembered their colleague and close friend.
Up until his death, Cummings served as the House Oversight Committee Chair, where he was deeply involved with the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump.
Cummings died on Oct. 17 after complications with unspecified health challenges.
“I want to extend my warmest condolences to the family and many friends of Elijah Cummings, who are celebrating his life today in Baltimore,” Trump said later on Friday while giving a speech at Benedict College in Columbia, South Carolina.
Trump went on refer to “the passion he had … for lowering prescription drug prices.” The president said “we are absolutely getting it done” — “if we get support on the other side.”