The incredible life of Elijah Cummings: How a sharecropper’s son rose to become one of the fiercest Democrats who took on Trump

The incredible life of Elijah Cummings: How a sharecropper’s son rose to become one of the fiercest Democrats who took on Trump

October 27, 2019 0 By emoryenoch8291

Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.) photographed in his office on Capitol Hill on Thursday, November 15, 2018, in Washington, D.C.

Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.) photographed in his office on Capitol Hill on Thursday, November 15, 2018, in Washington, D.C.
Salwan Georges /The Washington Post / Getty


  • Elijah Cummings was born in 1951 and died in 2019, at age 68.
  • After working as a lawyer, he rose through the political ranks in Maryland, first serving as a state delegate for 14 years, and then representing Maryland’s 7th Congressional District for the last 23 years.
  • Cummings was known for his booming speeches, and holding truth to power. See his life in photos.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Elijah Cummings came from modest beginnings and died a towering politician.

In elementary school, he was told he was a poor learner and speaker. He went on to become a lawyer, a politician, and one of the fiercest orators in congress.

Over his nearly 40-year political career, Cummings fought for the rights of African Americans, for stricter gun control laws, and for people struggling with addiction.

As chairman of the Oversight and Reform committee, he was in the spotlight this past year when he demanded personal finance and political documents from President Donald Trump.

Here’s a look back at Cummings’ remarkable life.

When he was 11 years old, his civil rights roots showed for the first time when he rallied together with other children to try and integrate a swimming pool in Baltimore. Everyday for a week, as children tried to get into the pool, they were spat on and threatened. Cummings was cut by a bottle that was thrown at him. “The experience transformed my entire life,” he said.

segregated swimming pool civil rights 1960s

When a group of white and African American integrationists entered a segregated hotel pool in St. Augustine, Florida, on June 18, 1964, manager James Brock poured muriatic acid into it, shouting, “I’m cleaning the pool.” The demonstrators were arrested.

AP Photo/Horace Cort


Source: AP News

When Cummings was 17, he met Larry Gibson as he looked for people to put into his high school’s hall of fame. Gibson, an active member of the 1960s civil rights movement, became his mentor and later advised him to go to law school. They also worked on political campaigns together.

Political advisor Larry S. Gibson talks to reporter as during the rally at Baltimore City Hall

Political advisor Larry S. Gibson talks to reporter as during the rally at Baltimore City Hall

Mark Gail/The Washington Post/Getty


Sources: Baltimore Sun, Baltimore Sun

The school counselor had lit a fire in Cummings, and he sought to prove them wrong. By the time he made it to Howard University in 1969, he was excelling at his studies, getting Phi Beta Kappa honors for his political science degree and serving in student government.

Elijah Cummings sitting on a bench, 1975.

Elijah Cummings sitting on a bench, 1975.

Afro American Newspapers/Gado/Getty


Sources: Baltimore Sun, AP News

In 1976, he passed the state bar after graduating from University of Maryland School of Law. He worked at a small law firm in Baltimore before setting up his own practice, working alongside two other lawyers.

Elijah Cummings receiving an award, May 12, 1973.

Elijah Cummings receiving an award, May 12, 1973.

Afro American Newspapers/Gado/Getty


Sources: Baltimore Sun, AP News

In 1982, Cummings won the election for state delegate. He would serve in the Maryland General Assembly for 14 years, while continuing to work as a lawyer. He also became the first African American in Maryland become speaker pro tem.

Politician and Maryland congressional representative Elijah Cummings and Vera Hall, 1984.

Politician and Maryland congressional representative Elijah Cummings and Vera Hall, 1984.

Afro American Newspapers/Gado/Getty


Sources: Baltimore Sun, The New York Times

And contrary to his elementary school advice, Cummings became one of the most persuasive speakers in the statehouse. The AP described how he began speaking slowly, developing his themes, and then getting more enthusiastic, until his speech seemed not unlike a religious sermon.

Elijah Cummings, 1988.

Elijah Cummings, 1988.

Afro American Newspapers/Gado/Getty


Sources: Baltimore Sun, AP News

During his time as a delegate, Cummings was responsible for banning inner-city billboard advertisements for alcohol and tobacco. It was the first prohibition in a large city in the US.

Elijah Cummings, 1988..

Elijah Cummings, 1988.

Afro American Newspapers/Gado/Getty


Source: AP News

In 1995, he ran for Maryland’s 7th congressional district, which is most of West Baltimore and Howard County. He won the seat from former Rep. Kweisi Mfume, who left to lead the NAACP. Mfume told the Baltimore Sun, “Common law and experience teach us that politics change people — but Elijah was a person who changed politics – he put a human face on it — he made it real.”

NAACP President and Chief Executive Officer Kweisi Mfume stands after speaking to the news media during a protest June 4, 2004 outside Catholic University in Washington, DC. Mfume and other supporters of the civil rights group protested the university's decision to block the formation of a chapter of the NAACP at Catholic University.

The NAACP is among 12 civil rights groups urging parents not to opt-their kids out of Common Core tests.

Getty / Brendan Smialowski


Sources: AP News, Baltimore Sun