Ida Jones received an unexpected call last year from the attorney of former U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings letting her know that Morgan State University had been bequeathed materials of the late congressman.
Jones, the university’s archivist and associate director of Special Collections, said the news was “overwhelming.” She had expected that Cummings’ alma mater, Howard University, would receive his personal collection.
After a year of coordination and working with the estate’s attorney to transfer the items, Morgan State officially acquired the collection in October. It arrived at the historically Black university this week, Jones said.
“Howard received more personal items. But we have at least 1,000 boxes of his business — his intellectual mind is what we have here,” Jones said.
The New York Times referred to Cummings as “one of the most powerful Democrats in Congress” at the time of his passing in 2019, following his 23 years of service advocating for policies to help improve working-class Americans’ lives, particularly Baltimoreans. His personal papers are a textual, visual and artifactual testament to his work as a native son of Baltimore and as a legislator.
The collection consists of lettered correspondence with constituents, personal notes, photographs, old newspaper clippings featuring him and more.
It will be organized chronologically and housed in the Earl S. Richardson Library’s Beulah M. Davis Research Room, where the university maintains its archives, manuscripts and rare books.
Cummings grew up in a deeply segregated Baltimore during 1950s and 1960s. He died in his hometown at age 68 on Oct. 19, 2019. He was first elected to the Maryland House of Delegates in 1982.
For 14 years, he represented District 44, a predominantly Black district in Southwestern Baltimore, and served as vice chairman of the Constitutional and Administrative Law Committee and the Economic Matters Committee.
While serving in the Maryland State Legislature, Cummings became the first African American in Maryland history to be named speaker pro tempore — the House of Delegates’ second-highest position.
In 1996, he won the seat in the U.S. House of Representatives formerly held by Kweisi Mfume, Maryland’s current District 7 representative. Mfume vacated the seat at the time to become NAACP president.
The two started their political careers around the same time in 1977 and had been friends for over 40 years, Mfume said. When Cummings joined Morgan’s Board of Regents, it was naturally “a good fix,” Mfume said, adding that together they could move the needle, from the board’s perspective, and push for the things that were important.
“He had enough to do being a member of Congress. But he enjoyed that role because he really believed in Morgan, even though he was a graduate of Howard,” Mfume said.
Cummings also served as chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus and as ranking Democrat and then chairman of what became the House Oversight and Reform Committee.
“It was an intentional decision to make sure that all of those things that comprised is congressional papers and artifacts would be housed there Morgan, because he knew that they would be taken care of there,” Mfume said. “And for a college, a university, to be able to identify itself as a repository of congressional papers and artifacts from particular members is not only historical, but it’s very, very significant, as well.”
Jones said the university will spend the next three years to gain grant funding to digitize the work of Cummings and other notable Marylanders for all to access online.
“I understand as an historian, I’m a bit analog. So, I like to touch things. But we’re going to actually spend some time to digitize his work so that we can share it with the global world,” Jones said.
“So, someone who’s in Beijing or someone who’s in Nebraska who might be coming across an issue of topic among health, education, drug addiction, they might surface upon legislation that’s he done or some kinds of protests in which he participated,” Jones said.