By Francesca Sund
Baltimore Watchdog Staff Writer
WASHINGTON – Friends, family, coworkers, admirers and the curious flooded the National Statuary Hall of the U.S. Capitol on Thursday to say goodbye to Rep. Elijah Cummings one last time.
“I truly believe that the greatest thing was his fortitude, his moral authority and his righteous indignation,” said actor Lamont Easter. “Many shall now take the baton and continue the race towards justice, dignity, respect, and equality for all.”
Cummings’ casket lay on top of the Lincoln catafalque. At both sides of the simple base of rough pine boards nailed together and covered with black cloth stood U.S. Capitol officers at attention. People passing by paid their respects and thanked him for his work as both a government official and a civil rights advocate.
“Besides people picking up the ball and the baton and carrying it forward, to me the legacy of him is almost all of the good fight he has done throughout his life,” Easter continued.
“His inspiration to know I’m on the right track in my own way of carrying those very attributes forward not only for the African-American community or the minority community, but for humanity period,” he said.
The line to see Cummings stretched from the House chambers past the doors of the entrance to the Visitors Center. Many voices, including that of attorney Lanny Davis, filled the inside of the building with memories of Cummings’ work.
“Among the four or five people in my life who gave me spiritual inspiration first and foremost, political inspiration as one of my heroes as far as teaching me about political courage who also is and was a very close personal friend for over 40 years Elijah Cummings is one of my heroes,” said Davis.
After graduating from the University of Maryland School of Law in 1976, Cummings practiced law for 19 years before being elected to represent Maryland’s 7th Congressional District.
“I first met him in the era when the birth of the Civil Rights movement occurred in the ‘60s, and most recently when he joined with me in getting the truth out about the danger of this president through Mr. Cohen,” Davis explained. “And all those years in between, all he ever stood for was justice and integrity.”
Cummings served in the Maryland House of Delegates for 14 years, and worked as chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus, where he became the first African American in the state’s history to be named Speaker Pro Tempore, the second highest position in the House of Delegates.
“Within the last couple of days, I have watched MSNBC and CNN,” Brenda Grayton shared. “I don’t remember the person’s name, but they really described how I felt. They indicated that Elijah Cummings was the Martin Luther King for Baltimore, and that’s the way I feel about him. I feel that same way.”
Cummings represented much of West Baltimore and fought to improve the city’s health care system, implement gun control laws and raise the quality of inner-city schools.
When asked what Cummings meant to her, Patricia Little said, “He [was] a humble man. He’s about the last one we had.”
Little’s friend, Wanda Harrison added compliments about Cummings’ work and character: “Hearing things recently, especially with the immigrant children and his passion for them, that’s what really got me. His passion for people, you know, all people.”
Earlier Thursday, members of Congress and Cummings’ relatives held an arrival ceremony.
On Wednesday, hundreds of constituents, public officials, friends and family snaked inside Morgan State University’s Murphy Fine Arts Center to view Cummings who lay in a navy-blue suit in an open casket, accompanied by a folded American flag. Two large bouquets and a uniformed ceremonial honor guard were positioned nearby as a video played highlights from a handful of his most rousing speeches.
Later Wednesday night, hundreds more gathered at the Murphy Center for a community celebration that included two dozen political and community leaders who spoke of fond memories, history-making events or personal contacts with Cummings.