Cummings is First Black Lawmaker to Lie in State at U.S. Capitol

By Jaylen Williams

Tributes are pouring in from all over the country this week in response to the passing of U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings. People have been coming out in droves to pay their respects to the giant of justice.

Cummings is the first black lawmaker to ever lie in state in the U.S Capitol. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi was among the lawmakers who gave remarks during the service in the Capitol Rotunda today.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi pays tribute to Congressman Elijah Cummings. (Photo: CNN Newsource)

“He was a master of the House,” Pelosi said. Just this year, Cummings became chair of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, which has been investigating Donald Trump.

Cummings was known as one who overcame obstacles all his life, as a child who faced Baltimore racism head on and as an adult who fought illness valiantly for a long period.

“He is the quintessential example of a public servant,” one of the mourners, Hollin Dwiggins said. “I survived an illness at birth that should have killed me, and my parents had no health insurance. So in an entirely different way, I know what it’s like to be an underdog and survive so I admire him very much.”

“A lot of the doors he opened were for our children,” said Tia Norman, who attended the public viewing at the Capitol Rotunda. (Photo: Jaylen Williams/HUNS)

Cummings often said that our children are living messages that we send to a future we will never see. “A lot of the doors he opened were for our children,” reflected Tia Norman, who also attended the public viewing in the Rotunda. Although the viewing was scheduled from 1 p.m. to 7 p.m., the line was closed at 6:30, because of the quantity of mourners.

Others gathered on Wednesday at Morgan State University where he lay in repose to provide Baltimore residents a chance to pay tribute. Cummings had served on the university’s Board of Regents for 19 years, being appointed in the summer of 1999. As a regent, he served on the committee for Academic and Student Affairs. In 2006, the Morgan State bestowed the congressman with an honorary Doctor of Laws, and he delivered the commencement speech to undergraduate students this past spring.

During a special tribute service there, government officials and community leaders gave remarks while the Morgan State choir sang three selections, chosen by Cummings’ widow, Maya Rockeymoore.

At the tribute, Sen. Ben Cardin noted that “he may have been mild- mannered, but Heaven forbid anyone should stand between Elijah and justice. They would hear from Elijah.”

Cummings, an alumnus of Howard University, was dedicated to reforming the criminal justice system and sponsored several pieces of legislation such as the MERCY Act, which banned solitary confinement of juveniles.

“Compounding incarceration with solitary confinement can break a young person’s spirit beyond repair, and it can have devastating long-term impacts on their mental and physical health,” Cummings said in a statement in December.

“The MERCY Act takes a strong step toward eliminating this barbaric practice, to ensure our youth have a chance to be rehabilitated and become contributing members of their communities.”

Cummings’ funeral will be held Friday morning at New Psalmist Baptist Church in Baltimore where he was a long-time member. Former Presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton are among the anticipated speakers.

Jaylen Williams is a reporter for the Howard University News Service.

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