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Baltimore neighbors and residents talk about what Rep. Elijah Cummings meant to them

Howie Ghee recalled U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings out on the streets calming tensions on North Avenue during the 2015 unrest.

Gilbert Ricks saw him in person several times: When he visited Ricks’ mother’s church in Northwest Baltimore, when he delivered encouraging remarks to inmates in jail, even when the two both happened to be jogging at the same time in Druid Hill Park when they were younger.

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Lawrence Henderson worked on a crew that helped renovate the basement of Cummings’ home on Madison Avenue in West Baltimore.

Many Baltimore residents have their own stories about Cummings, a civil rights advocate and towering presence in Maryland and national politics whose devotion to his city and its people endured until his death Thursday at age 68. His constituents mourned his death after awaking to the news — some calling into radio stations in tears, while others reflected on the loss his death represents to the city, state and country.

Cummings was a “father figure” and a “civil rights icon” who “left a mark” with his efforts to end segregation, said Matthew Hubbard, a West Baltimore barber. He mentioned Cummings in the same breath as such legendary civil rights figures as the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and the Rev. Jesse Jackson.

Hubbard, 45, expected the congressman’s legacy to be the talk of his barbershop Thursday.

“He stood up, put himself out there so we could get a better life," Hubbard said. “A street or something should be named after him.”

Allistaire Blackwell sat on a Maryland Transit Administration bus reminiscing about the blunt-talking Democrat who “looked after the city of Baltimore.”

“He told the truth,” the 65-year-old West Baltimore man said. “He told it like it was. He didn’t hold back. He was a real decent person."

Thelma Johnson, 84, of Edmondson Village said the city has lost a great leader.

“He was for everybody,” she said. “He was present for all people.”

For Ghee, 52, of West Baltimore, what he remembers is the indelible image of Cummings standing at North and Pennsylvania avenues with a bullhorn, encouraging people to go home and avoid further confrontations with police during the unrest after the death of Freddie Gray. Cummings had spoken at the funeral of Gray, the 25-year-old whose death from injuries suffered in police custody sparked protests and later rioting and looting.

“He was up on North Avenue, in person, trying to calm down that situation,” Ghee said. “He was a leader.”

Ghee noted that Cummings defended Baltimore after President Donald Trump called his district a “disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess," despite the congressman’s recent heath issues.

“He still spoke on that,” he said.

Randallstown IHOP manager Matthew Barnwell shares thoughts regarding the death of U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings.

Ricks, 68, was completing Coppin State University coursework while in jail for a drug-related charge more than two decades ago, when Cummings visited the inmates and encouraged their charity work and other positive efforts, he said.

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Ricks said he learned all he needed to know about Cummings “on that basis alone.”

“He always seemed to be sincere, doing right by the people,” Ricks said. “He would motivate us to keep doing what we were doing, what was right.”

Henderson, 45, still knows the address of Cummings’ Park Avenue district office, where the congressman would meet with constituents for any reason — sometimes even “for no reason,” he said.

“People could go to his office,” Henderson said. “They would talk, and he would listen.”

The news of Cummings’ death left him “hurting,” Henderson said.

“He did a lot for the city,” he said. "He tried to make things right in government for the people of Baltimore.”

Former Baltimore Police Commissioner Leonard Hamm, a friend and neighbor of Cummings in West Baltimore’s Druid Heights neighborhood, considered him a Baltimorean first and foremost.

“He was raised ... in South Baltimore, not too far from us," Hamm said. "He went to City College, not too far from us. And he came back and lived in the neighborhood, not too far from us. He was a part of all of this thing called Baltimore.”

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