I am still in disbelief in our recent 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 jumpshot in Madison Square Garden or hit a walk-off homerun 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, 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 also 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 (as was my mother in Sumpter). 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 registation 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 jmportant black history moment to him asap. In November I called my good friend Attorney James Henson in 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. ELIJAH CUMMINGS LETTER
Dr. Thomas on the picket-line in Orangeburg, SC in the early 50s.
Congressman Cummings and I shared several character traits, he wore his heart on his sleeve, he loved children, and one of his best friends was a White Republican—Rep. Mark Meadows. Cummings was a liberal from Maryland and Meadows is a conservative from North Carolina. The two men had little in common, but they shared a uniquely strong friendship on Capitol Hill. Cummings had been asked about his friendship with Meadows on several ocassions and he said, “Meadows is a good friend . We disagreeon 95% of the issues, but ok, we’re able to talk. He’s cordial, we’re able to negotiate the things that we are able to agree on and I like him.” Been there and done that!
It was during a dramatic house oversight Commitee hearing in February when Lynn Patton a black woman and a long time Trump friend was brought to the Oversight Hearing chaired by Congressman Cummings. She was there to deny that President Trump was a racist. Things got heated when Democratic rep Rashida Tlaib called her appearance a “racist act” by Meadows. Meadows demanded that Tlaib’s remarks be stricken from the record. Chairman Cummings called Meadows “one of my best friends” and suggested Tlaib did not intent to call Meadows a racist. Tlaib agreed and apologize to Meadows. The next day they hugged it out. Meadows returned the act of truth telling when he defended Congressman Cummings when President Trump attacked him. Trump called Cummings’ Baltimore district “rat infested and he was a racist”! The Baltimore Sun newspaper even called Trump out in an editorial saying, “It is better to have a few rats than to be one!”
In 1969 I received a Presidential appointment from Richard M. Nixon a man I knew as Vice-President of the United States in the late 50s. I was just a caddy at the exclusive all-white Burning Tree Golf Course in a DC suburb in Bethesda, Md. When I met Nixon I was just a poor young black kid whose first home was a NE outhouse in 1940. I was just trying to help my single parent welfare mother make ends meet. Nixon and I had absolutely nothing in common as it related to our backgrounds except we both loved sports. He hacked his way around the golf course with his golf partner Attorney General William Rogers who was an excellent golfer and a class act. We would talk sports on my ride into DC with him and Rogers to catch my bus home. My drop-off point was Westmoreland Circle located on the district line separating DC from Maryland. When it came to knowing the difference between a Republican and Democrat I was clueless. I was just in the right place at the right time.
From a NE Outhouse to a NW White House. Hattie and I meet with President Nixon and Attorney General, William Rogers in the Oval Office (1969)
Congressman Cummings wore his heart on his sleeve. His honesty and integrity were never questioned by those who knew the MAN, if he gave you his WORD you could carry it to the bank and never have to worry about insufficent-funds! His type of integrity and honesty are a lost art in today’s American politics. The best example; the Words he spoke to Michael Cohen during the hearings on The Hill relating to corruption in government are words to live by https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=geFgPqTesnk
I have been truly blessed and honored to have President Nixon, Congressmen Lou Stokes (D-Ohio), John Lewis (D-Ga) and Elijah Cummings on my team. They inspired me to be all that I could be. They supported my pioneering efforts to reach back and reach out to the community through my non-profit organization Kid In Trouble, Inc. and my sports talk show “Inside Sports” against all odds. Congressman Stokes was the first politician to read my name into the Congressional Record on the House floor citing my work with at-risk children and youth gangs in DC’s inner-city (Senator Bob Dole and Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton would follow his lead).
When I became a radio sports talk show host I remembered the naysayers who had critiqued my political appointment, but stayed in the closet with their comments of disapproval. For my talk show I needed a comment to close my show that would freeze the race baiters who were waiting to call-in. I coined the phrase, “Every black face I saw was not my brother and every white face I saw was not my enemy.” It has worked for over 5 decades. During the Oversight hearing, Congressman Cummings showed his compassion when he reminded Michael Cohen that President Trump had called him a “Rat” and in prison and in the inner-city that is one of the worst things that you can be called. And being called a “Uncle Tom” is another.
NFL legend Jim Brown and I visit with our friend the late Congressman Stokes on The Hill.
Earl Lloyd of Alexandria, Virginia was the first black to play in a NBA game in 1950 and in the process played on a NBA Championship team. He was also the first assistant black NBA coach hired and the second black head coach hired behind Bill Russell of the Boston Celtics, but for some reason the NBA Hall of Fame Gods had forgotten his historical contributions to the league. For decades they omitted his name from the ballot. In 2000 Congressman John Lewis would team up with me and NBA legend the late Red Auerbach to campaign for his induction. JOHN LEWIS NBA NBA legend and icon the late Red Auerbach and wife Dotie guest host on Inside Sports and NBA pioneer the late Earl Lloyd as he dribbled his way into NBA Hall of Fame in 2003, thanks to an assist from Congressman John Lewis and Red Auerbach.
Congressman Cummings saved his most profound and enlightening statement for last when he said,
“When we are dancing with the angels the question will be asked in 2019 what did we do to make sure we kept our Democracy intact. Did we stand on the sidelines and say (and do) nothing? The messages that we send our children are the living messages we send to our future, one we will never see!”
I am amazed how many young people have always wanted to be “Like Mike”! If America is going to move ahead, grow and prosper more young people will need to be like Congressman Elijah Cummings. I still want to grow up to be like Congressman Elijah Cummings and I am 81 years old.
I am following the lead of this great man and saying, “This blog is adjourned!”