I am still in disbelief in our lost of a great friend and human being to us all-Congressman Elijah Cummings.
He did not have to throw a touchdown on Sunday against the Steelers, shoot a jump shot in Madison Square Garden or hit a walk-off home run for his Baltimore Orioles to be an American hero!–all he had to do was be himself.
I am so glad this man passed my way. Congressman Cummings and I would often pass each other like ships in the night tooting our horns saying hello and goodby at the same time. It was either during The Congressional Black Caucus Weekends in Washington, DC or at Ben’s Chili Bowl during my tenure as historian. It was at the Chili Bowl I would see him making a pit stop on his way to The Hill or heading home to Baltimore. He would pull his black Lincoln up to the curb and run in and get his favorite half-smoke, but never without a smile or handshake.
In 2016 I was on my way out of the exhibit hall at the Congressional Black Caucus, when I spotted him sitting at a table alone on his cell phone. I stopped to say hello and waited for him to complete his call. He acknowledged he saw me and flashed a thumps-up. When he finished his call he waved me over to the table.
The conversation started light and then he switched gears and started to talk about how we were losing ground in the Civil Rights movement. I expressed my disappointment and cited the sacrifices made by many including my wife Hattie’s family out of Orangeburg SC. I notice his eyes lit up when I mentioned Orangeburg. I later discovered his mother and father were born in South Carolina. In the early 50s Hattie’s father Dr. Charles H. Thomas, Jr. was a professor of psychology on the campus of South Carolina State University and President of the local chapter of the NAACP. He also marched with Dr. Martin Luther King and started the first ever student voter registration drive on a college campus. Dr. Thomas was inducted into the South Carolina Hall of Fame in 2007.
Congressman Cummings was impressed and made me promise to get him that important black history to him asap. In November I called my good friend Attorney James Henson of Alexandria, Virginia. He was a classmate and dear friend of Congressman Cummings. He made a call for me to his Baltimore office to make sure that the information I was mailing would get into the right hands of staffer Vernon Simms . Apparently it did and Hattie and her family received a letter from Congressman Elijah Cummings dated February 23, 2017 (Black History Month) commemorating her family’s contributions to the early Civil Rights Movement.