By Derrick Johnson,
President and CEO, NAACP,
The world has lost a champion for civil rights, an esteemed activist, and a titanic figure in the fight for justice and democracy in America. At the NAACP, we have lost a lifetime member and friend to our organization who tirelessly worked to improve the lives of African Americans.
From his days in the Maryland General Assembly to his key role in the Trump impeachment inquiry as chairman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, Congressman Elijah Cummings (D-MD) dedicated his life to combating oppression in all its forms – and holding oppressors accountable.
The pursuit of civil rights was not just Cummings’ passion, it was his life’s work. Cummings first strived for justice at age 11, when he helped integrate a local swimming pool in Baltimore, organizing protests with the help of the local NAACP.
As a Maryland assemblyman, Cummings banned alcohol and tobacco ads on inner-city billboards in Baltimore, and in 2003, Cummings chaired the Congressional Black Caucus, shining a light on the issues most important to people of color.
In Washington, Cummings spent his career championing policies protecting civil rights and demanding justice. In 2015 after the death of Freddie Gray, Cummings took to the streets of Baltimore in protest and spoke at Gray’s funeral, demanding “justice, oceans of it.”
Cummings knew that the road to equality and fairness would be long, but worth taking – and he leaves behind a legacy of fighting oppression and brutality in all its forms.
As a member of the NAACP during his time in Congress, Cummings worked alongside the organization to address issues like racial profiling, election protection, voting expansion, expanding healthcare to all Americans, housing access and investment in high quality learning from pre-k to 12 and higher education. He was also instrumental in removing the citizenship question from the 2020 Census, which would have substantially undercounted African Americans and other people of color in communities nationwide.
Elijah was on the frontlines of advancing so much of what makes America the bedrock for the civil rights movement. Yet, while he worked with NAACP leaders on a national and local level on an array of social issues, we remember him most for his fervent fight to protect the voting rights of black people in America.
I still recall the passionate speech he delivered earlier this year in support of H.R. 1, also known as the “For the People Act,” where he shared a promise he made to his dying 92-year-old mother, a former sharecropper who had lived through the painful time in our country’s history where black people were terrorized while seeking the right to vote.
He promised her he would “not let them take our votes away from us,” and at the NAACP, we will honor that promise. We will uphold Elijah’s legacy by fighting to strengthen our nation’s democracy and protecting the rights of Americans to cast a free and unfettered vote – and to be certain their vote is counted.
We will continue to resist attacks on our communities and will fight for fundamental structural changes to our political system to restore the balance of power back to the people, ensuring that Elijah’s last wishes, as well as his mother’s, are fulfilled.