By Carole Norris Greene
The major networks did not lead off with the death of Maryland Congressman Elijah Eugene Cummings the evening of Oct. 17, the day Cummings died while in hospice care in his beloved Baltimore. Word of his early morning passing was already by nightfall superseded by the breaking news of the antics of the Trump administration that were viewed as both shocking and unconscionable.
Here in Baltimore, however, Cummings’ passing continued to dominate all broadcasts.
I was grateful for this because I felt that acknowledging this man’s loss was more important than anything going on in our nation at the time.
We are constantly bombarded with alarming revelations, betrayals of trust, infighting and the absence of honor revealed on so many levels. Sometimes, we may even wonder if something such as integrity on the part of those in leadership still exists.
With Cummings’ unexpected passing, however, we are pulled away from what shocks and divides us. We are given a much-needed opportunity to see again what integrity looks like, how it was lived out and how we too can identify with this eloquent statesman who championed civil rights and the citizens of Baltimore whom he represented.
Cummings stands apart at a time when people who never before broke the law crumbled in the face of temptation and paid bribes to get their children into choice universities, when respected educators and elected official used public monies to pay their own bills.
Cummings once told The Baltimore Sun that during his time as a congressman, he endured two winters without heat since he could not afford to fix his furnace.
When my furnace went out a few years ago, no matter how much clothing I put on or how deeply I burrowed under my blankets, I was still miserably cold. But that was only for two weeks before help came. Two winters?!
While I live in the district that Cummings represented, kept abreast of the things he engaged in and always voted for him, I never met him. I didn’t walk the streets as he did. With my car remote in hand, I’d hop in the car and go from point A to point B. Anything — and anyone — in between was lost to me.
But Cummings was not lost to Andre, my husband. Andre is a walking, talking-to-everyone-he-sees man. He remembers meeting Cummings years ago through Henry Sampson, a DJ you could see in the window of radio station WEBB — owned by legendary singer James Brown — when it was located at Clifton and Denison Streets not far from our home in Fairmount Park.
“Even then, Cummings would ask people what they thought about a situation. He would engage us,” Andre recalled, agreeing with those who saw Cummings as being as much at home in board meetings as he was in a barbershop and canvassing neighborhoods to see how folks were doing.
Cummings once said to Donald Trump: “Mr. President … very soon you and I will be dancing with the angels. The thing that you and I need to do is figure out what we can do — what present can we bring to generations unborn?”
Cummings may not have realized it then, but he was already giving future generations and those of us today the gift of himself and his legacy to emulate.
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Greene was an associate editor in CNS’ special projects department for nearly 22 years.