Elijah Cummings was born to sharecroppers within the Jim Crow South. He spent his life preventing for civil rights and in opposition to segregation and went on to change into one of the influential members of Congress, chairing the Home Committee on Oversight and Reform the place he was a key determine within the impeachment inquiry in opposition to President Donald Trump.
His story, very like the historical past of the USA, is lengthy and sophisticated, stuffed with darkish spots however in the end bending towards justice. Cummings served for 23 years as a Democrat in Congress, representing his residence state of Maryland and residential metropolis of Baltimore. He was often known as a tough employee, prepared to achieve throughout the aisle when mandatory and to bridge gaps between politics to create friendships. “Those that knew him understood that it was values and patriotism that mattered to him, not social gathering or politics,” writes Speaker Nancy Pelosi within the introduction to his new e-book, We’re Higher Than This, written within the ultimate yr of his life.
The e-book delves into his story and private historical past, however it largely serves as a warning.
“This can be a combat for the soul of our democracy,” he wrote of President Donald Trump and the present political scenario. He used his final days to write down a name to motion, which he believed was important to the way forward for the USA. His widow, Maya Rockeymoore Cummings, completed the e-book for the congressman, writing in its ultimate chapter that “with each transgression, each disregard for the Structure, each try to act above the regulation, each denial of fact, our democracy is endangered. That’s why within the months and years forward we should proceed to listen to Elijah’s voice, ‘We’re higher than this.’ We’re higher than this.”
Rockeymoore Cummings ran as a candidate within the particular election to fill her late husband’s seat, coming in second to Kweisi Mfume. She additionally served as chair of the Maryland Democratic Celebration.
Fortune spoke with Rockeymoore Cummings about her late husband, his legacy, and his ultimate name to motion.
The next dialog has been edited for readability.
What are your ideas on the passing of Ruth Bader Ginsburg and the brand new combat within the Senate to fill the vacant Supreme Court docket seat with Amy Coney Barrett?
We’re headed in direction of one thing huge and scary, and it’s as a result of this President and his lawyer common have indicated that they’ll be capable of combat the outcomes of any election as a lot as they probably can. That implies that Justice Ginsburg’s demise is particularly vital; they wish to stack the court docket earlier than the election. Due to that, our democracy is in peril, similar to Elijah all the time predicted, and it’s in peril earlier than the election even occurs. We’re at a really severe inflection level within the historical past of this nation. Folks have to open their eyes and their ears to see and listen to clearly what’s occurring. Our democracy is in peril, and it’s being put in peril by the very man sitting within the Oval Workplace.
Let’s discuss this election and the function Congress and the oversight committee specifically could find yourself taking part in over these subsequent few weeks.
The Republican Celebration has been unwilling to carry President Trump accountable. We noticed that throughout the impeachment course of, and we’ve seen it in lots of respects throughout investigations by each the Senate and the Home. It’s necessary that they proceed to research and sound the alarm to the American individuals about what’s taking place to counter Donald Trump’s efforts to thwart their investigations. The Trump administration has didn’t adjust to democratic norms. They received’t reply to subpoenas. A few of their administration officers have refused to testify.
There does appear to be this rising mistrust of each the federal government and our electoral system on the whole. How does Congress change that going into this presidential election?
Our establishments are solely pretty much as good because the individuals who run them. And we’ve got a rustic being run by a person who’s intent on fostering and disseminating disinformation, who operates via chaos and confusion in order that he can management the levers of energy for his personal profit and for that of his social gathering. He already acknowledged privately to Bob Woodward again in January that he knew that COVID-19 was airborne and that it was harmful, and but we’ve seen him and his administration truly rescind that data. We see him making an attempt to confuse individuals about the way it’s transmitted, and we see him straight placing individuals in peril by holding rallies the place they might probably get COVID-19 and die. Persons are rightly confused as a result of they’re used to trusting the message of the individual sitting within the Oval Workplace.
Elijah’s message to the American individuals was that this man, Donald J. Trump, can by no means be trusted. He’s proven every day that he’s prepared to inform tons of of lies. And the individual sitting within the Oval Workplace as we speak can’t be trusted with our youngsters’s future, with our nation’s future, or with our personal future.
Chairman Cummings wrote concerning the significance of discovering the humanity in voters and connecting with them—even when they weren’t going to vote for him. What do you suppose he would have stated about this rising partisan divide within the nation? How can we bridge these gaps?
What’s so unhappy about this present second is that we even have stealth political actors, whether or not they be international governments or our personal disinformation specialists from contained in the nation, who’re trafficking conspiracy theories like QAnon. They’re intent on capturing the minds of the American public who’re susceptible to conspiracy theories in a approach that makes them proof against info.
However what’s challenged their means to proceed that effort is the coronavirus, which is proof against human spin. So despite what they are saying about not sporting masks or whether or not it’s airborne or forcing children to go to highschool or individuals to open their companies, the coronavirus goes to do what it does. We’re going to see extra pointless deaths, and the financial system goes to proceed to undergo as a result of we’ve got individuals and establishments which can be intent on holding the American individuals misinformed.
The President stated issues about your late husband that were cruel. Your husband was vocal about how a lot they harm him. There’s some energy in letting the President’s phrases have energy as an alternative of brushing them off…
Phrases make the world go spherical. What we are saying is the foreign money of what occurs in life. Almost about Elijah, I believe the harm and the ache that got here from President Trump’s assaults have been rooted in being the kid of the Jim Crow South. Locations the place African-Individuals stay, like Baltimore, have been regularly outlined as being lower than and outdoors of the physique politic. That hurts individuals as a result of it leads to individuals in energy making selections that deliberately deprive Americans of the assets they should thrive. By way of his childhood, these sorts of attitudes and that type of language resulted in separate and unequal faculties. It resulted in segregated neighborhoods. It resulted in kids like Elijah having rocks thrown at them after they tried to combine.
It nonetheless leads to tangible hurt and is an actual risk to people who find themselves persecuted. And the President is engaged in persecution. He’s been persecuting the town of Baltimore. He’s been persecuting immigrants. He’s been persecuting individuals of shade, and people phrases aren’t simply innocent. They end in actions by individuals who observe what the President says and act accordingly.
This e-book got here out weeks earlier than the election. What classes would you like individuals to remove from it?
I need this e-book to vary the course of historical past. I need this e-book to disclaim President Trump the power to recreation and to cheat the system and the electoral school in an effort to get reelected. I need this e-book to achieve individuals in each state, crimson and blue, throughout the nation.
I need Elijah’s phrases to rise above partisanship. That is his message to American individuals from past the grave: They completely should defeat Donald Trump. Our democracy is determined by it.
He firmly believed that if Donald Trump managed to get reelected then we might now not have a democracy. He needed the American individuals to know that. He spent the final yr of his life pouring his coronary heart and soul into this e-book so they might hear it, and now it’s time to get that message out.
What do you think about will occur if President Trump does win reelection?
I believe that we’ve already seen a preview of what’s going to occur: He’s going to change into more and more autocratic. We now have already entered the realm of changing into a pariah nation, and I believe that can change into a much bigger subject below a second time period. He’s indicated that he needs to be President for all times, which is in opposition to the Structure. We all know that he has flouted the regulation; we are able to anticipate to see that proceed.
It’s going to be a horrible state of affairs, and Individuals are going to undergo deeply.
However Elijah’s message is that we’re higher than that. We may be higher so long as we do higher. His life was a testomony about how we are able to obtain nice issues as a nation once we unify, once we push ahead, and once we breathe life into these 4 phrases: a extra good union.
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