I first met Elijah Cummings on our first day at the University of Maryland School of Law in August 1973. We soon banded together with a handful of other African American students to form a study group to get through three challenging years. As graduation in May 1976 neared, Elijah, his brother Robert “Bob,” and I began studying day and night for the Maryland Bar in my Randallstown basement. Soon after we were admitted on December 29, 1976, the Baltimore Afro American newspaper ran a story featuring us along with seven other new African American attorneys that included University of Baltimore President Kurt Schmoke, retired Baltimore Judge Askew “ Champ” Gatewood, and James E. Bentley, Esq.
Elijah and I started working as young attorneys at the Saint Paul Street law firm of “Johnson and Smith”, run by the late Gerald Smith and the Honorable Kenneth L. Johnson, two African American legal giants. Under their tutelage, Elijah and I worked on major class action employment rights cases, taking on the Baltimore police and fire departments (among other cities from Detroit to Richmond) for racial discrimination in hiring and representing class action race and sex employment discrimination cases against major Fortune 500 companies. He was a marvel to watch in court with his down-home, folksy preacher voice. During this time, our collegial respect and admiration for each other deepened.
After Johnson and Smith, our legal careers took different paths as I went into the public sector — working as an assistant Attorney General for the State of Maryland under Attorney General Francis Burch, as a senior trial attorney for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) under the leadership of Commissioners Eleanor Holmes Norton and Clarence Thomas, and as a lead Prosecutor for State’s Attorney Kurt Schmoke in the Special Narcotics Unit and the Felony Homocide Unit, before establishing my own mother and son law firm.
Elijah, on the other hand, worked almost exclusively as a private practice attorney for his own law firm, Cummings and Smith, until he was persuaded by the late Maryland State Delegate, Lena K. Lee, Esq. to enter politics and run for the position from which she was retiring. Elijah’s training, work experience and commitment to social justice qualified him to step into Delegate Lee’s giant shoes and he ran for and won that position repeatedly with overwhelming voter support until he ran to become U.S. Congressman for the 7th Congressional District of Maryland, when Kweisi Mfume vacated that seat in 1996.
On January 7, 2017, Elijah Cummings and his wife Maya attended an event at my Howard County home celebrating the 40+ years since our passing the Maryland Bar. Before leaving that night, Elijah pulled my late husband and I aside and we talked about the pending inauguration of the newly elected president and reflected on our long and varied legal careers over our decades of friendship. With deep concern and conviction, he told us, “Evelyn, I believe God placed me in Congress for such a time as this.”
The truth of his statement has since been evidenced by the skillful manner in which he chaired the House Oversight Committee hearings and led its investigations which planted the seeds for what ultimately resulted in the impeachment of the 45th president of the USA. Although he didn’t live to see that day, Speaker Pelosi’s reference to Elijah as “our North Star” during her closing comments on impeachment day acknowledged that his temendous efforts contributed to that historic moment.
Elijah was always extremely busy, but in 2008 he slowed his pace long enough to smell the roses. When he proudly and gleefully introduced me to his beautiful new bride, Dr. Maya Rockeymoore Cummings, it was clear to me that he had not only found the love of his life but he had found a soul mate, someone with a fighting spirit and who shared his deep seated desire for social justice, to compliment his amazing life. Elijah had such great respect and admiration for Maya, her business, charity initiatives, government policy expertise, her doctoral achievements and her total commitment, understanding, and support for all of his endeavors. It’s clear to me that she was truly a woman who not only stood by her man but she loved him deeply and shared in all his struggles inside and outside of the “House.”
As one who was married to the same man for 52 years, I know the value and importance of a genuine relationship that is fueled and powered by the significance of “pillow talk,” the safe and genuine communication between soul mates regarding matters of great interest and concern to them both. As two fighters for social justice, I know that Elijah and Maya shared many thoughts, ideas and opinions on major issues impacting our society.
I am supporting Maya for Congress and am totally committed to her campaign because my long time, dear friend demonstrated the highest respect and regard for Maya’s abilities. He truly loved and admired her. He would have wanted me and others to be there to support her and to help get her elected. Notwithstanding the numerous candidates who are running in the primary election on Tuesday, June 2, 2020, I’m convinced that Maya Cummings is the best candidate to continue and build on the legacy created by a great American leader, Elijah E. Cummings. With her own excellent training, skills and abilities along with her expertise in government policies, I’m certain Maya will achieve and exceed the vision set by my dear friend Elijah for the benefit of those she will represent in the U.S. Congress.
Thus, it is with great pride, and once again, that I can unabashedly shout, “CUMMINGS FOR CONGRESS!” Take us forward Mrs. Cummings.
Evelyn Olivia Addison Darden, Esq. is a principal in the Law Offices of Addison-Darden. She was recently selected as one of the five inductees into the Maryland 2020 Women Hall of Fame in Annapolis, MD.