Rep. Elijah Cummings Will Be First Black Lawmaker to Lie in State at U.S. Capitol

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Congressman Elijah Cummings will be honored Thursday as his body lies in state inside the U.S. Capitol, where he served for over two decades.

He’s one of few African-Americans to be so honored.

Elijah Cummings
Rep. Elijah Cummings is remembered by many for his passion and devotion to seeking justice. He passed away on Oct. 17 at age 68 from unspecified causes. (Photo: Win McNamee /Getty Images)

Cummings, a Maryland Democrat and key figure in the investigation into President Donald Trump, died last Thursday after suffering complications related to longstanding health issues. He was 68 years old.

In September, Cummings underwent a medical procedure that kept him away from work for many weeks. His unexpected death prompted a flood of sadness and grief from both Democratic and Republican lawmakers.

“In the House, Elijah was our North Star,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said of Rep. Cummings. “He was a leader of towering character and integrity, whose stirring voice and steadfast values pushed Congress and the country to rise always to a higher purpose.”

After his passing, Pelosi announced the lawmaker’s body would lie in state at the Capitol’s National Statuary Hall, with a special memorial service to take place Thursday at 11 a.m. A public viewing is then planned from 1-7 p.m.

Cummings is the first African-American lawmaker to lie in state at the U.S. Capitol, per the Congressional Black Caucus. The honor is historically reserved for federal and military officials. Only two other Black persons — civil rights icon Rosa Parks and Capitol police Officer Jacob J. Chestnut — have lain in honor, a tribute reserved for private citizens, according to CNN.

On Wednesday, hundreds of mourners, constituents and supporters turned out to pay their final respects to Cummings as he lay in repose at Morgan State University, a historically Black college in the congressman’s Baltimore district. Local station WBAL-TV reported that Cummings’ body arrived just after 8:30 a.m, as pallbearers and his widow, Dr. Maya Rockeymoore, led his casket into the Murphy Fine Arts Center.

The open casket, flanked with flowers, was placed near the auditorium stage. A slideshow played on a big screen showed clips of Cummings’ past media interviews, as well as pictures of him with former Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, and presidential hopeful Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass), according to the outlet.

“He always delivered hope, always delivered perseverance, always made you feel there’s nothing you couldn’t do,” said Kayla Reid, a Morgan State student.

Maryland Sen. Ben Cardin also had kind words to say, and lauded the late congressman’s devotion to social and political justice.

“He may have been mild mannered, but heaven forbid somebody should stand between Elijah and justice, they would hear from Elijah,” Cardin said at Wednesday’s event.

“I’m going to miss his spirit,” Baltimore Mayor Jack Young also recalled. “I think all of us can learn a lot from Congressman Cummings. We should all plan to extend our hand and say to those around us how can I help you.”

Cummings’ funeral is planned for Friday, Oct. 25, where former presidents Obama and Clinton are expected to speak.

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