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Emerson College Reflects on Congressman Elijah Cummings’ Legacy

Paramount Center marquee with a message that says Rest in Power Congressman Cummings.
The Paramount Center’s marquee paid homage to Congressman Elijah Cummings, who passed away on October 17, 2019.

Emerson faculty members are remembering Maryland Congressman Elijah Cummings, a “great soul of American politics.”

Cummings, chair of the House Oversight Committee and a leading figure in the House’s impeachment inquiry into President Trump, died Thursday, October 17, at the age of 68.

Long before Trump became a president, Cummings, the son of sharecroppers, was known for decades as a fierce advocator for civil rights in Baltimore. He was first elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1996.

“Elijah Cummings was a great soul of American politics,” said Associate Professor of Journalism Roger House. “He was part of the post-civil rights generation that believed in our better angels and a better democracy. The talents of his generation enriched the country under the reforms of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act.” 

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, a Maryland Democrat, said Cummings “brought peace where there was no peace,” reported The Baltimore Sun. After the 2015 death of Freddie Gray, who died from injuries suffered while in police custody, Cummings walked the streets of Baltimore counseling against the violence that ensued during protests, Hoyer recalled on the House floor.

Cummings pushed for civil rights early in his life, including trying to integrate a swimming pool with friends when he was only 11 years old, reported The Washington Post.

“Within the Afro-American community, Cummings was a symbol of the accomplishments of the southern farm workers that migrated to the big cities after World War II. He became a guiding light in the movement for black political power in the 1970s,” said House.

Cummings’ old school dedication to providing help to those in need will be sorely missed, added House.

Michael Selig, Associate Professor of Visual Media Arts, agreed.

“Representative Cummings was a rarity in these days, a true leader who understood the sacrifice, as well as the joy, of public service, of a selfless life dedicated to the well-being of others,” said Selig. “I do believe his passing is an opportunity for our many students to learn more about a life journey that few of them know, and unfortunately probably too few of them ever get a chance to see as a model to emulate.” 

In honor of Cummings, the Paramount Center’s marquee paid homage with the message: “Rest in power Congressman Cummings”.

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