The Life of Elijah Cummings

He was the son of sharecroppers who became one of Washington’s most powerful black voices — never backing down from speaking truth to power. This is the story of Representative Elijah E. Cummings.

Leaving behind a legacy of strong leadership and speaking truth to power

He was a fearless civil rights leader, one of the most powerful Democrats in Congress, and a key player in the Trump impeachment inquiry. He was born in Baltimore in 1951, the son of sharecroppers. At 11, he helped lead a march to a local swimming pool that wasn’t integrated. White protesters threw rocks and bottles and he was left with a permanent scar. From that moment, he decided he would become a lawyer.

He attended Howard University — a historically black university where he served as student government president. He later attended the University of Maryland School of Law. At 25, he started practicing law in Baltimore. At 31, he ran for Maryland state delegate — and won. He nearly went bankrupt trying to maintain his law practice and serve in the state assembly. At 45, in 1996, he was elected to the U.S. Congress. He served until the end of his life. At 52, he chaired the Congressional Black Caucus. In 2011, he lost his nephew to gun violence and became one of the House's most fierce gun control advocates. At 68, he became the chair of the House Oversight Committee just as investigations into President Trump began to heat up. He found himself at the center of the impeachment inquiry as it drew closer.

Cummings’ death leaves a void. Only a few members of his own party have been as willing to speak as frankly as Cummings or take as immediate action against the grift and madness that Republicans pass off as governance. “We are better than this!” was one of his frequent exhortations, and I am not sure that we were. He died at 68, leaving behind a legacy of strong leadership and speaking truth to power.