Written by Howard Newsroom Staff
Dear Howard University Community,
It is with a heavy heart that I share news on the passing of The Honorable Elijah E. Cummings, a powerhouse voice for the unheard, servant leader and my friend.
Born on January 18, 1951 to sharecroppers, Congressman Cummings graduated with honors from Baltimore City College High School in 1969. He was a class of 1973 graduate of alma mater. When Howard University campus political activists are mentioned, his name must be included. He held a campus position every year since he was a freshman, including member of the George W. Carver and Meridian Hill Hall Judiciary Boards, sophomore class president, Howard University Student Association (HUSA) Treasurer, and HUSA President. He graduated Phi Beta Kappa with a degree in political science. Congressman Cummings then graduated from the University of Maryland School of Law in 1976 and was admitted to the Maryland Bar in December 1976. He practiced law for nineteen years before entering Congress.
Congressman Cummings was educated by world-class political science faculty experts—each among the earliest of all Blacks to earn Ph.Ds. in political science. The Howard political science faculty were the progenitors of what is now known as Black politics in the field of political science. The study of Black people and politics was birthed here. Congressman Cummings’ student experience in this environment propelled his lifetime of honorable public service.
Without a doubt, he blazed his own trails by beginning his career of public service in the Maryland House of Delegates, where he served for more than a decade. While there, he became the youngest elected chairman of the Maryland Legislative Black Caucus, and the first African American in Maryland history to be named Speaker Pro-Tem, the second-highest position in the House of Delegates. Congressman Cummings proudly represented Maryland’s 7th Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Congressman Cummings always honored the responsibility of a Howard graduate. He received an Alumni Achievement Award in 2000 (the same year as Jessye Norman). He also received the honorary degree, LL.D., in 2003 as the Charter Day Orator and a Special Citation of Achievement in 2006 as the Commencement Orator.
A masterful coalition builder, from 2003-04, he was president of the Congressional Black Caucus. He accomplished a productive agenda with the help of other progressive caucuses to: preserve affirmative action; block the nomination of narrow-minded federal judges; stop the implementation of limited media ownership rules; improve health disparities, veterans’ benefits, and national security measures; increase funding for K-12 and for Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs); and, create new jobs and a climate for new businesses.
Congressman Cummings, in his most recent role, served as the chairman of the Committee on Oversight and Reform. As the committee’s Chairman, Congressman Cummings fought to hold the presidential administration to a high standard of excellence and to ensure efficiency and effectiveness in the actions of the government of the United States. He also sought to identify appropriate reforms that prevent waste, fraud, and abuse and that ensure government programs meet the needs of the American people.
Known for his convicting oratorical skills, Cummings earlier this year said, “When we’re dancing with the angels, the question we’ll be asked: In 2019, what did we do to make sure we kept our democracy intact? Did we stand on the sidelines and say nothing?” Congressman Elijah E. Cummings dedicated his life of service to uplifting and empowering the people he was sworn to represent.
Congressman Cummings served on numerous boards and commissions. He was a senior member of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, serving on both the subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation and the subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials. He spearheaded an effort to strengthen the Maritime Transportation Technologies Program at New Era Academy (NEA) in Baltimore, serving as chairman of the NEA Maritime Advisory Board. He also served on the U.S. Naval Academy Board of Visitors, the Morgan State University Board of Regents, the University of Maryland Law School Board of Advisors, and the SEED School of Maryland Board of Directors. He was an honorary board member of KIPP Baltimore Schools and the Baltimore School for the Arts.
Of greatest significance, amidst it all, Congressman Cummings was present and there for his family, the less fortunate, the persecuted, the victimized, the city of Baltimore, America, Howard University, and for me. We must perpetuate his legacy by taking up his clarion call and fighting for equality and justice.
As I reflect on his successes, I am most moved by a man whose true essence preceded his title. I will miss his spontaneous calls to check-in on me. On more than one occasion, I ran into him in the lobby of the Administration building as he came to make tuition payments. He was never too big to care for the people around him—and that is what made him a giant in my eyes.
His clarion call wasn’t a solo piece. Instead, it was a lead baritone in the song of freedom—a song he amplified in the soothing of America’s deepest wounds. Today, the melody he first composed nearly three decades ago continues to rain down on and nourish us with immense love.
Please join us in keeping his family, employees, constituents, daughters (both of whom are Howard alumni), and wife, Maya, in our thoughts in prayers. At this time, especially, they need the expansive arms of their Howard family, near and far, wrapped around them.
The Congressman often said, “our children are the living messages that we send to a future we will never see.” A giant departed this Earth, but his protégés will finish his song while he pauses to dance with the angels.
Excellence in Truth and Service,
Wayne A. I. Frederick, M.D., MBA