The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

A white mob attacked Elijah Cummings for integrating a swimming pool. He was 11.

The Maryland congressman, who died Thursday, had a scar on his face for the rest of his life.

Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.), speaks during a luncheon at the National Press Club in Washington earlier this year. (Patrick Semansky/AP)
Placeholder while article actions load

“Miss Mitchell” told the boys there was a better pool they could swim in, Rep. Elijah E. Cummings remembered later.

He was 11 years old, and he and his friends were getting too big for the small, shallow public pool where they had been spending the summer of 1962.

“As a matter of fact, it was so small, we had to wait turns to get in,” the Maryland Democrat, who died Thursday at 68, told the Baltimore Sun in July.

Elijah Cummings, Baltimore congressman who took on Trump administration, dies at 68

But there was another pool, Miss Mitchell said. Riverside Park Pool in South Baltimore was Olympic-size, with a deep end. And it was open to the public — theoretically. In practice, it had yet to be integrated.

Over several days that August, Cummings and a group of two dozen African American boys marched to the swimming pool and jumped in.

Crowds of angry white residents, sometimes numbering 1,000, according to Sun coverage at the time, surrounded them. They held signs saying “Keep Our Pool Germ Free” and “White People Have Rights Too.”

“And these were adults,” Cummings remembered. They “called us every name you can imagine, everything but a child of God.”

They also shouted, “Go back to where you came from” — something Cummings recalled last summer as President Trump attacked him, attacked Baltimore and attacked freshman congresswomen of color with a similar “go back” expression.

‘Send her back!’: Trump, Ilhan Omar and the complicated history of back to Africa

The mob surrounded the pool, held back by a line of police with K-9 dogs, while the kids tried to splash and play. Then, over the police officers’ heads, the mob threw rocks and bottles. One of them hit Cummings in the face, cutting his eyebrow and leaving a scar he carried all his life.

Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.) died at the age of 68 on Oct. 17. He will be remembered for his many powerful and poignant speeches. (Video: The Washington Post, Photo: Salwan Georges/The Washington Post)

“The injured child, who received a face cut during a brief scuffle at the Riverside Park pool, was driven from the scene in a police cruiser,” the Associated Press reported.

On another day of the swimming pool demonstration/playtime, the flying objects hit Miss Mitchell.

“Miss Mitchell was bleeding,” Cummings said. “And she grabbed all of us kids, and I remember the blood dripping on my face. I will never forget that as long as I live.”

After they had succeeded in integrating the pool, the young boy asked the others, “Who was that lady?”

She was Juanita Jackson Mitchell, a legendary civil rights lawyer with the NAACP.

“And at 11 years old, I declared in that moment that I was going to become a lawyer,” Cummings said.

Cummings was the son of South Carolina sharecroppers who had followed the Great Migration north to factory jobs in Baltimore. His parents struggled to feed their seven kids but still canned fruit for others in need. By the end of high school, the proprietor of a neighborhood drugstore paid the fee for Cummings’s application to Howard University. He was accepted and enrolled, later becoming student body president and earning his bachelor’s degree. A law degree from the University of Maryland followed.

Three decades after integrating the pool, when Cummings was campaigning for Congress, he recalled that a man came up to him after an event and apologized.

Cummings asked him why he was apologizing.

“ ‘I was one of them people back then in 1962 who was throwing the bottles and the rocks and the stones. And I’m sorry’ ” he said the man told him.

“And I said, ‘Apology accepted,’ ” Cummings said.

Read more Retropolis:

‘Send her back!’: Trump, Ilhan Omar and the complicated history of back to Africa

Trump’s racist tweets were written in the White House, which slaves helped build

Some white people don’t want to hear about slavery at plantations built by slaves

#LostTrumpHistory: Trump’s 9/11 claims become a George Conway-pushed meme