It is a shame we are not spared a moment from daily turmoil to respectfully mark the death of a legendary figure like the dearly departed Maryland Congressional Rep. Elijah Cummings. Mr. Cummings left us yesterday at age 68. I hesitate to bring up the current occupant of the White House, but I am reminded that the vitriol and harangue directed toward Mr. Cummings just a few short months ago turned into a possibly ghostwritten hollow tweet of praise on the occasion of his death.
We have lost both a statesman and more importantly a genuinely kind man. From being spat on and hit with bottles by racist driven pool-goers at 11 years old, attempting to stop him from integrating a swimming pool, to defending a white Republican colleague against a vague charge of racism, Mr. Cummings was class personified. Rep. Elijah Cummings was born in 1951, I was born less than 50 miles from his eventual home in Baltimore, Maryland. We were contemporaries and I felt the sting of his childhood struggles.
What may seem to others as small or unimportant virtual and real slaps to the face, of a child of color, they can stay with you as an adult. In 1962 when Mr. Cummings was being yelled at, simply because he wanted to cool off on a hot summer day, I sweltered in that same heat in Washington, D.C. Unfortunately, there were no waterparks available and pools were restricted to overcrowded, poorly maintained recreational centers, with inadequately trained teens as lifeguards. You were warned by your parents to leave the pool immediately if the water turned yellow and, “for heaven’s sake don’t swallow.” This was no fault of the children or residents, but budget restrictions and the general attitude of people being looked upon as less than was commonplace.
Mr. Cummings persevered, a lot of his drive was derived from the Briggs v. Elliott case that was eventually consolidated into the case of Brown v. The Board of Education and his parents’ connection. This case became a part of five families that led to the desegregation of schools all over America. I was in that first generation of desegregated schools, leaving behind old desks, used, coverless books, and cold classrooms. Undaunted, Mr. Cummings graduated college, went on to law school, became a distinguished member of Congress and literally legislated for children and the disadvantaged until his last breath.
From humble beginnings, great men are often challenged to test their worth through adversity. Mr. Cummings carried a scar over his eye, from being hit during the pool incident as an 11-year-old and it was often said he rubbed it as a reminder to never stop fighting. Mr. Cummings did his job with passion; he did his job swimming in the pool of truth and justice he was denied as a child. No man is perfect, and I am sure the people who did not get everything they wanted from Congressman Cummings are angry. I hope that through that anger they remember a quote I recently heard uttered by the Chairman of African American studies at Princeton University.
“We are at a deficit of decency and with his death, that deficit has tripled” -Dr. Eddie S. Glaude Jr.
Vote for decency in 2020.