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Elijah E. Cummings
Elijah Cummings23.jpg
Chair of the House Oversight Committee
In office
January 3, 2019 – October 17, 2019
Preceded by Trey Gowdy
Succeeded by Carolyn Maloney
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Maryland's 7th district
In office
April 16, 1996 – October 17, 2019
Preceded by Kweisi Mfume
Succeeded by Kweisi Mfume
Member of the Maryland House of Delegates
from the 39th district
In office
January 12, 1983 – January 10, 1996
Preceded by Lena King Lee
Succeeded by Sterling Page
Personal details
Elijah Eugene Cummings

(1951-01-18)January 18, 1951
Baltimore, Maryland, U.S.
Died October 17, 2019(2019-10-17) (aged 68)
Baltimore, Maryland, U.S.
Political party Democratic
Joyce Matthews
(div. 1982)

(m. 2008)
Children 3
Education Howard University (BA)
University of Maryland, Baltimore (JD)

Elijah Eugene Cummings (January 18, 1951 – October 17, 2019) was an American politician and civil rights advocate who served in the United States House of Representatives for MD's 7th congressional district from 1996 until his death in 2019, when he was succeeded by his predecessor Kweisi Mfume. The district he represented included over half of the city of Baltimore, including most of the majority-black precincts of Baltimore County, and most of Howard County, Maryland. A member of the Democratic Party, Cummings previously served in the Maryland House of Delegates from 1983 to 1996.

Cummings served as the chair of the Committee on Oversight and Reform from January 2019 until his death in October of the same year.

Early life, education, and career

Cummings was born on January 18, 1951, in Baltimore, son of Ruth Elma (née Cochran) and Robert Cummings. His parents were sharecroppers. He was the third child of seven. When he was 11 years old, Cummings and some friends worked to integrate a segregated swimming pool in South Baltimore.

Cummings graduated with honors from Baltimore City College high school in 1969. He then attended Howard University in Washington, D.C., where he served in the student government as sophomore class president, student government treasurer, and later student government president. He became a member of the Phi Beta Kappa Society and graduated in 1973 with a Bachelor's degree in Political Science.

Cummings graduated from law school at the University of Maryland School of Law, receiving his Juris Doctor in 1976, and was admitted to the bar in Maryland later that year. He practiced law for 19 years before first being elected to the United States House of Representatives in the 1996 election.

For 14 years, Cummings served in the Maryland House of Delegates. His predecessor, Lena King Lee, raised funds and campaigned for him; years later, Cummings credited her with launching his political career. In the Maryland General Assembly, he served as Chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus of Maryland and was the first African American in Maryland history to be named Speaker Pro Tempore, the second highest position in the House of Delegates.

Cummings also served on several boards and commissions, both in and out of Baltimore. Those include SEED Schools of Maryland Board of Directors and the University of Maryland Law School Board of Advisors. He served on numerous Maryland boards and commissions including the Board of Visitors to the United States Naval Academy and the Elijah Cummings Youth Program in Israel. He was an honorary member of the Baltimore Zoo Board of Trustees.

In addition to his speaking engagements, he wrote a biweekly column for the Baltimore Afro-American newspaper.

Congressman Elijah Cummings was a member of Phi Beta Sigma fraternity and a Prince Hall Mason.

U.S. House of Representatives

Elijah Cummings portrait
Earlier photo of Cummings
Xavier Becerra, Robert Matsui, and Elijah Cummings at a press conference on civil rights
Elijah Cummings, Xavier Becerra, and Robert Matsui at a press conference on civil rights in 1997
Elijah Cummings and Bill Clinton
Cummings with Bill Clinton in 2000
Barack Obama and Elijah Cummings
Cummings with Barack Obama in 2004

Committee assignments

  • Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure
    • Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation
    • Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials
  • Committee on Oversight and Government Reform (Chair)
    • Subcommittee on Domestic Policy.
    • Subcommittee on Federal Workforce, Post Office, and District of Columbia.
  • Select Committee on Benghazi (Ranking Minority Member 114th Congress)

In December 2010, Edolphus Towns announced that he would not seek the position of ranking minority member of the Oversight Committee in the next Congress, even though his seniority and service as chair would typically result in his filling this post. Reportedly, Towns withdrew because of a lack of support from Nancy Pelosi who feared that he would not be a sufficiently aggressive leader of Democrats in an anticipated struggle with incoming committee chair Republican Darrell Issa. Reportedly, the White House also wanted Towns to be replaced. Cummings defeated Carolyn Maloney in a vote of the House Democratic Caucus.

In his role as chair of the Oversight Committee, Cummings presided over the first public testimony by President Trump's former lawyer, Michael Cohen, and was a leading figure in the impeachment inquiry against Donald Trump. Carolyn Maloney was named acting chair by Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and won the subsequent election in the Democratic caucus to serve as permanent chair.

Caucus memberships

  • Task Force on Health Care Reform
  • Co-founder and Chairman of the Congressional Caucus on Drug Policy
  • Congressional Arts Caucus
  • Afterschool Caucuses

Cummings was a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. He served as chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus during the 108th United States Congress.

Cummings received praise following the congressional panel hearings on steroids in 2008. While investigating the use of steroids in sports, the panel called numerous baseball players to testify, including former single season home run record holder Mark McGwire. After McGwire answered many questions in a vague fashion, Cummings demanded to know if he was "taking the Fifth", referring to the Fifth Amendment. McGwire responded by saying, "I am here to talk about the future, not about the past." The exchange came to epitomize the entire inquiry.


Cummings introduced the Presidential and Federal Records Act Amendments of 2014, a bipartisan bill signed into law by then-President Barack Obama in December 2014. The bill, which Cummings co-sponsored with Representative Darrell Issa, (R-California), is a set of amendments to the Federal Records Act and Presidential Records Act. Among other provisions, the bill modernizes the definition of a federal record to expressly include electronic documents.

He supported the Smart Savings Act, a bill that would make the default investment in the Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) an age-appropriate target date asset allocation investment fund (L Fund) instead of the Government Securities Investment Fund (G Fund). Cummings called the bill a "commonsense change" and argued that the bill "will enable workers to take full advantage of a diversified fund designed to yield higher returns".

He introduced the All Circuit Review Extension Act, a bill that would extend for three years the authority for federal employees who appeal a judgment of the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) to file their appeal at any U.S. circuit court of appeals, instead of only the U.S. Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit. Cummings said that this program is important to extend because it "allows whistleblowers to file appeals where they live rather than being limited to the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals". He also said that the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals has "an abysmal track record in whistleblower cases".

In remarks at the 2016 Democratic National Convention, Cummings declared: "Our party does not just believe, but understands, that Black Lives Matter. But we also recognize that our community and our law enforcement work best when they work together."


Rep. Cummings was shown to be very passionate and dedicated in his beliefs, and could often be seen becoming emotional in public as a result. Cummings was seemingly very agreeable as well. According to many, Cummings would often befriend members of the Republican Party, and was highly respected by both sides of the aisle.

Political campaigns

Elijah Cummings (3080908579) (cropped)
Cummings speaking at the 2008 Democratic National Convention

The five-term Congressman for Maryland's 7th congressional district, Kweisi Mfume, resigned in February 1996 to take the presidency of the NAACP. Cummings won a crowded twenty-seven-way Democratic primary—the real contest in this heavily Democratic, black-majority district—with 37.5% of the vote. In the special election, he defeated Republican Kenneth Kondner with over 80 percent of the vote. He defeated Kondner again in November by a similar margin to win the seat in his own right.

He was reelected 11 more times in the contests which followed, never dropping below 69 percent of the vote. He ran unopposed in 2006.

Electoral history

Maryland's 7th congressional district: Results 1996–2018

Year Type Winner Party Votes  % Opponent Party Votes  % Opponent Party Votes  %
1996 Special YesY Elijah Cummings Democratic 18,870 80.9% Kenneth Kondner Republican 4,449 19.1%
1996 General YesY Elijah Cummings 115,764 83.5% 22,929 16.5%
1998 YesY Elijah Cummings 112,699 85.7% 18,742 14.3%
2000 YesY Elijah Cummings 134,066 87.0% 19,773 12.8%
2002 YesY Elijah Cummings 137,047 73.5% Joseph E. Ward 49,172 26.4%
2004 YesY Elijah Cummings 179,189 73.4% Tony Salazar 60,102 24.6% Virginia Rodino Green 4,727 1.9%
2006 YesY Elijah Cummings 158,830 98.1% Write-in candidates 3,147 1.9%
2008 YesY Elijah Cummings 227,379 79.5% Michael Hargadon Republican 53,147 18.6% Ronald Owens-Bey Libertarian 5,214 1.8%
2010 YesY Elijah Cummings 152,669 75.2% Frank Mirabile 46,375 22.8% Scott Spencer Libertarian 3,814 1.9%
2012 YesY Elijah Cummings 247,770 76.5% 67,405 20.8% Ronald Owens-Bey Libertarian 8,211 2.5%
2014 YesY Elijah Cummings 144,639 69.9% Corrogan Vaughn 55,860 27.0% Scott Soffen Libertarian 6,103 3.0%
2016 YesY Elijah Cummings 238,838 74.9% 69,556 21.8% Miles B. Hoenig Green 9,715 3.0%
2018 YesY Elijah Cummings 202,345 76.4% Richmond Davis 56,266 21.3% David Griggs Libertarian 5,827 2.2%

Personal life

Cummings lived in the Madison Park community in Baltimore and was an active member of the New Psalmist Baptist Church. He married Joyce Matthews, with whom he had a daughter, Jennifer J. Cummings. He had a son and a daughter, Adia Cummings, from other relationships. He married Maya Rockeymoore Cummings in 2009, who was elected chairwoman of the Maryland Democratic Party in December 2018.

In June 2011, his nephew Christopher Cummings, son of his brother James, was murdered at his off-campus house near Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia, where he was a student. On August 12, 2021, Norfolk Police charged four individuals with the murder of Christopher Cummings.

Cummings underwent surgery to repair his aortic valve in May 2017 and was absent from Capitol Hill for two months. In July 2017, he developed a surgery-related infection but returned to work. Cummings was later hospitalized for a knee infection.

Cummings was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer called thymic carcinoma in 1994 while serving as a member of the Maryland House of Delegates. It was revealed in November 2019 that Cummings had lived with the cancer for 25 years, though it was not stated as the cause of death.


Obama speaking at Cummings funeral - 2019
Barack Obama speaking at the funeral of Elijah Cummings.

Elijah Cummings died on October 17, 2019, at Johns Hopkins Hospital at the age of 68 from "complications concerning longstanding health challenges", his spokeswoman stated. Before his funeral service on October 25 at Baltimore's New Psalmist Baptist Church, where he was a member for 40 years, Cummings lay in state at the U.S. Capitol Building's Statuary Hall on October 24.

Cummings is the first African American lawmaker to achieve the honor of lying in state at the nation's Capitol. Prior to his death, the most recent people to lie in state were former Senator John McCain and former President George H. W. Bush. Following a state funeral which was attended by family and members of Congress, thousands of public mourners were seen entering the U.S. Capitol to see his casket and received greetings from his widow, Maya Rockeymoore-Cummings. His casket departed from the U.S. Capitol at around 8:35 p.m.

On October 25, 2019, the official funeral for Cummings was held at the New Psalmist Baptist Church in Baltimore. Many political figures of the Democratic Party, including former Presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Joe Biden, John Lewis, Amy Klobuchar, Elizabeth Warren, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and his predecessor Kweisi Mfume (who then became his successor) attended the funeral service.

Political positions


Representative Cummings was in favor of single-payer healthcare. While he supported The Affordable Care Act, he believed the legislation should have added a public option.

Honors and awards

Cummings was awarded many honors and awards in recognition of his political career. These include:

Honorary degrees

  • Cummings received 13 honorary doctoral degrees from universities across the United States, most recently an honorary doctorate of public service from the University of Maryland, College Park in 2017.
Honorary degrees
Location Date School Degree
 District of Columbia 2003 Howard University Doctor of Laws (LL.D)
 Maryland 2006 Morgan State University Doctor of Laws (LL.D)
 Maryland 2007 Goucher College Doctorate
 Maryland 2014 Maryland Institute College of Art Doctorate
 Maryland 2015 Johns Hopkins University Doctor of Humane Letters (DHL)
 Maryland December 20, 2017 University of Maryland, College Park Doctor of Public Service

See also

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