Watch Elijah Cummings’ First Congressional Floor Speech: ‘I Only Have a Minute… But Eternity is In It’


Maryland Congressman Elijah Cummings delivered a stirring first floor speech in 1996 that has only gained poignancy with news of his passing. In the speech, he recited a poem about the fleeting yet significant nature of life.

Rep. Cummings — who passed away Thursday morning at the age of 68 — was sworn in to Congress by then-Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich on April 25, 1996.

Shortly thereafter, Rep. Cummings delivered his first speech on the floor of the House of Representatives. He thanked his mentors, former Maryland Reps. Kweisi Mfume and Parren Mitchell, and another source of guidance, as well.

Only God could create this path. Only God. Only God could create a path where the son of two sharecroppers from Manning, South Carolina could rise to represent the people of the seventh Congressional district in the Congress of the United States of America. Only God. And so I must first thank God for this opportunity.

I also thank him for giving me the strength the humility and the courage to walk the path that he has given me. So often we in public life forget that we are very fortunate to come upon this Earth and have an opportunity to serve. So often we forget because we get so caught up in our battles, in our struggles that so many people wish they could have the problems we have. And so I am just a happy happy man.

…I represent a diverse district. A very diverse district. We have people who have a lot of problems, we have people have very nice homes, we have people who are struggling just trying to make it. And it honors me tremendously to know that they would send me here to represent them. I’ve often said on the floor of the Maryland House of Delegates that our world would be a much better world and a much better place if we would only concentrate on things we have in common instead of concentrating on our differences. It’s easy to find differences. Very easy. We need to take more time to find common ground.

And so my mission is one that comes out of a vision that was created long long ago. it is a mission and a vision to empower people. To make people realize that the power is within them. That they too can do the things that they want to do. And so I am about that mission, and I’m looking forward to joining with all of you as we travel this road, I often call journey, which I define as life.

And there’s a poem that Parren Mitchell said many many years ago that I say sometimes 20 times a day, and it’s a very simple poem, but it’s one that I live by.

It says ‘I only have a minute. Sixty seconds in it. Forced upon me, I did not choose it. But I know that I must use it, give account if I abuse it, suffer if I lose it. Only a tiny little minute. But eternity is in it.

And so I join you as we move forward to uplift not only the nation, but the world. May God bless you all and may God bless America.

The poem was written by civil rights pioneer Dr. Benjamin Mays.

Watch the speech above, via C-Span.

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