'A Man of Noble and Good Heart': Dignitaries, Family Celebrate US Rep. Cummings

On Thursday, Cummings became the first African American lawmaker to lie in state in the U.S. Capitol

Congressman and civil rights champion Elijah Cummings was remembered as "a man of noble and good heart" by former President Barack Obama during Cummings' funeral Friday, at a church filled with both dignitaries and ordinary people from Baltimore.

Remarking on the title "honorable" given to those in public life, Obama said Cummings was honorable before he was elected, outside of the limelight. 

"As president I always knew I could count on Elijah being honorable and doing the right thing," Obama said.

Cummings was a kind man, Obama said, and added that there was nothing weak about being kind, about looking out for others, about being honorable.

"You're not a sucker to have integrity and to treat others with respect," he said.

The former president was among the dignitaries speaking at New Psalmist Baptist Church, where Cummings worshipped for nearly four decades and which was filled to capacity. His bishop, Walter S. Thomas Jr., delivered the eulogy.

Cummings' flag-draped casket arrived at the church shortly after 6 a.m. An honor guard of service members walked in the casket as people lined up to enter the sanctuary. 

"It is no coincidence — is it? — that Elijah Cummings shared a name with an Old Testament prophet," Former Secretary of State HIllary Clinton said during the service. "Like the prophet, our Elijah could call down fire from heaven but he also prayed and worked for healing. He weathered storms and earthquakes but never lost his faith.”

She compared him to the biblical prophet when she said that he “stood against corrupt leadership.” 

"Our Elijah was a fierce champion of truth, justice and kindness in every part of his life,” who could find common ground with anyone willing to seek it with him, she said.

Former President Bill Clinton said, "His legacy is how ardently he honored his oath to protect and defend the Constitution of United States."

As the service began, the choir performed the hymn "The Church is One Foundation and Gospel singer BeBe Winans sang. Presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren and U.S. Rep. Marcia Fudge, a Democrat from Ohio and former chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus, gave scripture readings.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi noted that on Thursday Cummings was the first African American lawmaker to lie in state in the U.S. Capitol. The service there was bipartisan, a tribute to a man who brought people together, she said.

His casket rested in National Statuary Hall for the service and was later moved to a passage directly in front of the House chamber, where he served for 23 years.

In reference to the Jewish tradition of leaving a space for Elijah at the Passover table, Pelosi said of Cummings, “Our Elijah always made a seat at the table for others.”

He made a seat for children who needed an education and members of Congress who needed a mentor, she said.

“Mentor, Master of the House, Northstar, Mr. Chairman,” she ended. “May he rest in peace.”

Cummings died Oct. 17 at age 68 of complications from longstanding health problems. A son of sharecroppers, he became a lawyer and elected official known for his powerful oratory and advocacy for the poor in his congressional district and beyond.

Cummings represented a congressional district that includes his hometown of Baltimore since 1996 and most recently led one of the U.S. House committees conducting an impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump. 

He recently provoked the president's anger, who lashed out at Cummings' district as a "disgusting, rat- and rodent-infested mess" where "no human being would want to live."

His wife, Maya Rockeymoore Cummings, said that he had fought for the soul of the country’s democracy “against very real corruption.”

“It got infinitely more difficult in the last months of his life,” she said.

The attacks on his beloved Baltimore hurt him, she said, and she agreed that he should lie in state at the Capitol so that he was given “the respect and dignity that he deserved.”

“This was a man of the utmost integrity,” she said. “Do you here me?”

Cummings' daughters, Jennifer and Adia, talked about how he believed in their dreams and taught them to be bold, confident and to stand up to bullies.

Among those waiting to get into the church on Friday was LaGreta Williams, 68, of New York, who met Cummings when they were college students in Baltimore in 1969. She said the teenage Cummings was a natural leader who aspired to become Maryland's first black governor. She recalled his deep roar of a laugh.

Williams said they remained friends for 50 years and often had lunch when she visited Baltimore.

"I think his legacy is that he was an honest person," she said. "He wanted everyone to have an equal opportunity so that people could make better decisions for themselves, better choices."

Bobby Trotter, a 67-year-old Baltimore resident who lives just outside Cummings' district, recalled how the congressman helped quell tensions in the city after the rioting that erupted in 2015 over the death of Freddie Gray, a black man who suffered a fatal spinal injury during a jolting ride in a police van.

Cummings "believed in helping people, particularly people that were downtrodden. He stood up. He spoke for them," Trotter said.

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