WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Mourners lined up early on Thursday to pay their respects to the late Representative Elijah Cummings, a powerful legislator and civil rights activist who became the first African-American to lie in state in the U.S. Capitol - a high honor usually bestowed upon presidents and military leaders.
The casket bearing Cummings’ body was carried up the East Front steps of the Capitol by an honor guard and taken into National Statuary Hall, where leading members of Congress saluted the 13-term congressman from Baltimore.
The son of sharecroppers, Cummings died on Oct. 17 at the age of 68 after longstanding health problems. As chairman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, he was one of a handful of Democrats leading the impeachment inquiry on President Donald Trump’s dealings in Ukraine.
Throughout his political career, Cummings was best-known for his civil rights activism.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi noted that Cummings was lying in repose atop the same wooden framework that supported Abraham Lincoln’s coffin following his assassination at the end of the U.S. Civil War.
Republican Representative Mark Meadows, a prominent Trump defender, described Cummings as a “dear friend” despite their frequent clashes.
“Perhaps this place in this country would be better served with a few more unexpected friendships,” Meadows said.
Mourners highlighted Cummings’ kindness and interest in his constituents.
Cooper Brockington of Reston, Virginia, arrived at 8:45 a.m. to be the first person in line to view the casket.
“I have a family member who was really big into civil rights. That’s why I’m here,” Brockington said, referring to James Farmer, Jr., who worked alongside Martin Luther King and was a co-founder of the Congress of Racial Equality, a civil-rights group.
Jawauna Greene, a former Cummings staffer, took the train from New York on Wednesday night to pay her respects.
She said she first met Cummings 24 years ago when he was working in a small law firm. She was pregnant, her Marine Corps husband was deployed and she needed to supplement the family’s income.
Cummings hired her on the spot, said Greene, who later worked as a scheduler in his congressional office.
“He was always helping neighbors, paying people’s bills out of his own pocket when he barely had money,” she said.
Reporting by Richard Cowan; additional reporting by Susan Cornwell; Editing by Andy Sullivan and Dan Grebler