BALTIMORE (AP) — Congressman and civil rights leader Elijah Cummings was remembered Friday as a “fierce champion of truth, justice and kindness” at a funeral that brought Washington politicians and ordinary people alike to the Baltimore church where he worshiped for four decades.
“It is no coincidence — is it? — that Elijah Cummings shared a name with an Old Testament prophet,” said former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the first in a series of dignitaries scheduled to speak. “Like the prophet, our Elijah could call down fire from heaven. But he also prayed and worked for healing. He weathered storms and earthquakes but never lost his faith.”
Clinton, who took the stage to rousing applause, added: “Our Elijah was a fierce champion of truth, justice and kindness in every part of his life.”
Gospel and R&B singer BeBe Winans, a favorite of Cummings, performed “Stand” as mourners sang along, stood and raised their hands. Many wiped away tears.
Former Presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi were also among the scheduled speakers at the 4,000-seat New Psalmist Baptist Church. Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren was set to deliver a reading of scripture.
At dawn, several hundred people were lined up outside, waiting for the doors to open so they could pay their final respects to the Baltimore Democrat who died Oct. 17 at age 68 of longstanding health problems.
“I felt like it was my civic duty, my responsibility to come and pay respects to a man who has done so much for Baltimore city, so much for the people, trying to keep us together,” said the Rev. Jacqueline Williams, 67, of Baltimore, as she waited in line.
Cummings’ casket arrived at the church before daybreak and was placed, open, in front of the sanctuary.
The sharecropper’s son rose to power in Washington, where he was first elected in 1996. He led investigations of President Donald Trump and recently provoked the president’s anger, who lashed out at Cummings’ district as a “disgusting, rat- and rodent-infested mess” where “no human being would want to live.”
On Thursday, Cummings became the first African American lawmaker to lie in state in the U.S. Capitol.
Among those waiting to get into the church was LaGreta Williams, 68, of New York, who met Cummings when they were college students in Baltimore in 1969. She said the teenage Cummings was a natural leader who aspired to become Maryland’s first black governor. She recalled his deep roar of a laugh.
Williams said they remained friends for 50 years and often had lunch when she visited Baltimore.
“I think his legacy is that he was an honest person,” she said. “He wanted everyone to have an equal opportunity so that people could make better decisions for themselves, better choices.”
Bobby Trotter, a 67-year-old Baltimore resident who lives just outside Cummings’ district, recalled how the congressman helped quell tensions in the city after the rioting that erupted in 2015 over the death of Freddie Gray, a black man who suffered a fatal spinal injury during a jolting ride in a police van.
Cummings “believed in helping people, particularly people that were downtrodden. He stood up. He spoke for them,” Trotter said.
Associated Press writer Julio Cortez in Baltimore contributed to this report.