The country will often concur en masse that it owes a lot to those who have fought for the freedoms U.S. citizens have today. What can sometimes get lost is that not all of those fighters were soldiers.
The United States lost one of its most heroic domestic freedom fighters Thursday when Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., died from complications related to long-standing health issues. He was 68.
In his youth, Cummings was active in the civil rights movement, exposing himself to threats, harassment and physical violence while taking a stand for African American equality in the United States. He was part of a successful movement to integrate a swimming pool in his hometown of Baltimore when he was 11. He and others were insulted and literally spat on as they protested. Cummings himself suffered a laceration when hit with a bottle thrown from a furious mob.
Cummings continued the fight for equality during his time as a lawyer and a politician in Maryland. He was a crucial voice for the inner-city plight of Baltimore over several decades. When he got to the U.S. House of Representatives, Cummings was known for his fiery rhetoric, but just as much for his ability to calm situations that had boiled over or degraded into spats based on which side of the aisle someone was sitting. He was that rarest of legislators who garnered admiration and respect from nearly all of his colleagues, Republican or Democrat, black or white, male or female.
Think about this: In February, after a word from Cummings, Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., and Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., who had been at each other’s throats in a public hearing the day before, were talking and hugging each other.
Cummings was leading a House investigation of President Donald Trump, and had bristled, although not without an air of dignity, when Trump called Cummings’ district a “rodent-infested mess.” Yet even Trump ordered flags to half staff in Cummings’ honor after learning of his passing, which is no small thing when considering Trump had to be pressured into doing the same following the death of Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona.
The United States could use a few Elijah Cummings in Washington, but, unfortunately, is now short of the one it had. Hopefully, in remembering his legacy, others will follow his example — unafraid to lead, to make sacrifices, to ask tough questions, to serve the office as it is meant to be served, while still maintaining a healthy respect for and personal connection with others, no matter where they stand on an issue.