BALTIMORE — Representative Elijah E. Cummings was firmly rooted in Baltimore, but for decades his voice extended far from his brick rowhouse on the city’s west side. On Friday, the legacy of his tireless advocacy brought powerful leaders from Washington and elsewhere to his city.
Mr. Cummings, a Democrat who rose in prominence in recent years for his unwavering pursuit of President Trump, died at 68 last week in the city he called home, the same one in which he was born and lived all his life.
Among the prominent cast of politicians, mentees and relatives expected to speak at his funeral on Friday morning were two former presidents, Barack Obama and Bill Clinton, as well as Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Hillary Clinton and Elizabeth Warren, the Massachusetts senator and presidential candidate.
Following a psalm read by Ms. Warren and a song from one of Mr. Cummings’s favorite singers, BeBe Winans, Ms. Clinton took the stage and thanked members of Mr. Cummings’s district “for sharing him with our country and the world.”
Ms. Clinton said Mr. Cummings never backed down in the face of abuses of power or from “those who put party ahead of country or partisanship above truth.”
“But he could find common ground with anyone willing to seek it with him,” she continued. “And he liked to remind all of us that you can’t get so caught up in who you are fighting that you forget what you are fighting for.”
Hillary Clinton spoke during the funeral service for Representative Elijah Cummings at New Psalmist Baptist Church in Baltimore.Credit…Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Ms. Pelosi asked attendees how many had been mentored by Mr. Cummings, and at least a dozen raised their hands. She recalled that he had sought to mentor as many freshman representatives as he could after Democrats took control of the House in the 2018 election.
“By example, he gave people hope,” she said.
Ms. Pelosi had spoken at another funeral in Baltimore on Wednesday for her own brother, Thomas D’Alesandro III, a former mayor of the city.
Earlier in the morning, thousands of grieving Baltimoreans stood in looping lines as the sun rose outside of New Psalmist Baptist Church, which seats 4,000 people and filled up shortly before 10, with many still outside. It’s the same church where Mr. Cummings sat in the front row most Sundays even after he began using a walker and wheelchair.
Mr. Cummings’s body lay in an open coffin at the front of the church on Friday, his left hand resting on his right as mourners passed by and a choir sang gospel music. An usher stood nearby with a box of tissues in each hand.
Elonna Jones, 21, skipped her classes at the University of Maryland to attend with her mother, Waneta Ross, who nearly teared up as she contemplated Baltimore’s loss.
“He believed in the beauty of everything, especially our city,” Ms. Ross said. “It’s important we’re here to honor a civil rights activist who was still around in my generation.”
Ms. Jones, a volunteer coordinator for a City Council candidate, said Mr. Cummings had motivated her to pursue a role in improving her city.
“As a young, black woman in Baltimore who wants to be in politics, he inspired me,” she said.
Mourning residents stood in black coats, hats and heels and sang Mr. Cummings’s praises as the police corralled the extended lines of people who woke up early to pay their respects. Above all, attendees noted, he always looked out for his city.
“He never forgot who we were,” said Bernadette McDonald, who lives in West Baltimore. “He was a son of Baltimore and a man of the people.”
The big names on the service’s agenda, the television cameras lined up outside and the large crowd belied the way many attendees interacted with the devoted congressman, who lived in the heart of West Baltimore and would simply give a knowing nod to those who recognized him on the street. He carried himself like anyone else when running errands or taking a walk around the block.
“If you didn’t already know him, you wouldn’t know who he was,” Ms. McDonald said.
Mr. Cummings saw his profile rise in recent years as he consistently sparred with Mr. Trump, determinedly pursuing the president, his businesses and his associates as head of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform. Mr. Cummings became a leading figure in the impeachment inquiry and was said to still be joining strategy discussions with colleagues from his hospital bed.
Rhonda Martin, who works at a local high school, said Mr. Cummings had inspired the next generation of Baltimore’s leaders by speaking to students in schools around the city.
“He brought a message of hope and told students that he did it, and they can do it, too,” Ms. Martin said.
Mr. Cummings, whose parents were former sharecroppers in South Carolina, graduated from Howard University in Washington and earned a law degree at the University of Maryland. He was first elected to Congress in 1996 and never faced a serious challenge over 11 successful re-election campaigns.
Over more than two decades in Congress, Mr. Cummings championed working people, environmental reform and civil rights. He served for two years as the chair of the Congressional Black Caucus and frequently spoke of his neighborhood while pushing legislation to lower drug prices, promoting labor unions and seeking more funding for affordable housing.
Even in his war of words with the president, the battle made its way to Baltimore when, in July, Mr. Trump called Mr. Cummings’s district a “disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess” and appeared to make light of a break-in at Mr. Cummings’s home, during which the congressman scared an intruder away.
The president’s insults still anger Baltimore residents. “See? We’re not all trash and rats,” one congregant said as she sat down in the church on Friday.
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