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A look back at U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings’ most powerful speeches

U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings spoke at Freddie Gray’s funeral asking whether people "saw him" before he died.

U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings died early Thursday morning, leaving behind a legacy as a powerful orator in Congress and back home in Maryland.

Cummings was known for his booming voice and strong speeches, in which he often used repetition and punctuated specific words for emphasis like a preacher from the pulpit.

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Here’s a look at some of Cummings’ most notable speeches over the years:

Freddie Gray’s Funeral

Following the 2015 death of Freddie Gray from injuries suffered in Baltimore police custody, Cummings spoke at Gray’s funeral asking whether people “saw him" before he died. He called for “oceans of justice” and “rivers of fairness,” saying that’s what Gray would have wanted.

“I’ve often said that our children are the living messages we send to a future we will never see,” he said. “But now our children are sending us to a future they will never see. There’s something wrong with that picture.”

His voice quavering, Cummings recalled putting his own nephew to rest following his murder.

"For me, I am in the twilight years, but I am telling you we will not rest, we will not rest until we address this and see that justice is done," he said.

He turned to Gray’s mother, Gloria Darden, and said “It’s our watch. We will not fail you.”

I am in the twilight years, but I am telling you we will not rest ... until we address this and see that justice is done.”


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Bill on Voting Rights

Cummings delivered a passionate speech in February in which he shared a promise his 92-year-old mother asked from him on her death bed a year prior.

The speech was delivered during the House Oversight and Reform Committee’s hearing on H.R. 1 — a bill on voting rights, campaign finance and ethics rules.

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Cummings recalled how his mother, a sharecropper, had witnessed Americans harmed and beaten while seeking the right to vote, he said.

“Her last words were ‘Do not let them take our votes away from us,’” he said, punctuating each word.

“Voting is crucial, and I don’t give a damn how you look at it,” Cummings said. “There are efforts to stop people from voting. That’s not right. This is not Russia. This is the United States of America.”

Cummings called voting the “essence” of democracy and pledged to “fight until the death” to make sure every citizen had access to the vote. Those without it, he said, cannot progress with the rest of society nor control their destiny.

“Voting is crucial, and I don’t give a damn how you look at it.”


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National Press Club appearance

Congressman Elijah Cummings invites President Trump to come to Baltimore during his speech at the National Press Club.

In July, Republican President Donald Trump began a weeklong series of tweets and comments attacking the congressman, his hometown of Baltimore and his congressional district, which Trump called “rat and rodent infested.” Cummings chose not to respond directly but in a National Press Club speech decried “racist language” used by the nation’s leaders and urged them to “work together for the common good.”

“God has called me to this moment. I did not ask for it,” he said in the speech.

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Cummings also invited Trump to come to Baltimore during his speech.

“God has called me to this moment. I did not ask for it.”


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Michael Cohen testimony

Cummings closed out the congressional hearings in which Trump’s longtime fixer Michael Cohen testified with a fiery speech that struck a more compassionate chord than other the committee members.

Cohen, Trump’s former attorney who previously pleaded guilty to lying to Congress, held his composure throughout the hearings as he testified that Tump was a “racist,” “conman” and “cheat," who paid off women such as Stormy Daniels during the 2016 campaign for their silence about past alleged affairs.

During the proceedings, Cohen was called a liar, a terrible lawyer and future federal prison inmate as he testified before the House Oversight Committee at the end of February.

But Cummings’ sympathy brought him to tears.

“I know it’s painful being called a rat,” Cummings said in his closing statement. “I live in the inner city of Baltimore. When you call someone a rat, that’s one of the worst things you can call them … because that means snitch.”

Cummings touched on the impact Cohen’s family sustained and what the future might hold for the president’s former lawyer.

“I mean that from the depths of my heart,” Cummings said. “When we’re dancing with the angels, the question will be asked: In 2019, what did we do to make sure we kept our democracy intact?”

“When we’re dancing with the angels, the question will be asked: In 2019, what did we do to make sure we kept our democracy intact?”


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Morgan State University commencement

Earlier this spring the congressman urged the newly minted graduates of Morgan State University to use their talents and degrees to defend and promote democracy in its “hour of peril.”

“We are at a crossroads,” Cummings said. “At 68, I have now lived longer than I will live. Your lives are in front of you — and so I beg you to go out and stand up for this democracy.”

The address came at a time when Cummings’ found himself being sued by Trump and the Trump Organization to halt subpoenas for financial information from the president’s businesses, on the grounds that Cummings had exceeded the limitations of Congress.

The House Committee Chair on Oversight and Reform never mentioned the president by name throughout his 35-minute address. But he alluded to the lawsuit as well as the attempts to undermine the 2016 election and various other topics, including income inequality and health care.

“This fight for the very soul of our democracy has been raised … by the actions of the president of the United States of America, both while in office and, it may still be determined, by his prior conduct,” the Baltimore native and resident said. “Congress must reassert our constitutional power and obligation of oversights.”

Cummings also discussed his modest childhood and urged the graduates to learn from obstacles they might encounter in life.

“Never forget the bridge that brought you over,” he said. “Do not let anybody define you. You must define yourselves.”

First speech on the House floor

Cummings gave his first speech on the U.S. House of Representatives floor nearly 20 years ago, after being sworn into office April 25, 1996.

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During that speech he emphasized the importance of everyone coming together and concentrating on the things they have in common.

“My mission is one that comes out of a vision that was created long, long ago,” Cummings said. “It is a mission and a vision to empower people — to make people realize that the power is within them and that they too can do the things they want to do.”

The then newly elected U.S. Representative said he couldn’t wait to join everyone on his new journey and shared a poem that he said defines who he is. He’d recite it to himself 20 times a day sometimes, Cummings said.

“I only have a minute, 60 seconds in it, forced upon me I did not choose, but I know that I must use it, give account if I abuse it, suffer if I lose it. Only a tiny little minute but an eternity is in it.”

Condemning “child internment camps”

During a joint hearing between the House Oversight and Government Reform and Justice committees about Hillary Clinton’s emails, Cummings condemned “child internment camps” and pleaded with his Republican colleagues to stand up to Trump about immigrant children being separated from their families at the border.

“We sent letter after letter asking these committees to investigate Trump administration policy that is now resulting in child internment camps,” Cummings said during the July 2018 hearing. “But we’ve gotten no response.”

Cummings expressed disbelief that children and families were experiencing separation in the United States. He said that even if people don’t believe in immigration, nobody should agree with “intentionally separating children from their parents.”

“We should be able to agree that we will not keep kids in child internment camps indefinitely and hidden away from public view," Cummings said. “What country is that? This is the United States of America.”

Cummings then directly appealed to his Republican colleagues, telling them to reject the policy he said Trump set.

“We need you to abandon this policy,” he said. “We need you to remind him that this is the United States of America and it is a great country and we need you to stand up for those children.”

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