Oct. 24 (UPI) -- Members of Congress gathered in the National Statuary Hall at the U.S. Capitol on Thursday to honor late Maryland Rep. Elijah Cummings, who became the first African-American lawmaker in history to lie in state there.
Cummings' casket arrived at the Capitol late Thursday morning and was placed in the hall. The 12-term Democratic congressman, who'd been fighting cancer, died Oct. 17 at age 68.
Many lawmakers spoke at Thursday's ceremony. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, D-Mo., led a prayer to start the ceremony and was followed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
"It is my official and personal and sad honor to welcome Chairman Elijah Cummings and all who loved him to this celebration of his life," Pelosi said. "Elijah was truly a master of the House. He respected its history and in it, he helped shape America's future."
Pelosi said Cummings was particularly moved by the migrant crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border, saying once, "We can do better."
"Elijah has said that our children are our living messengers to a future that we will never see," Pelosi added. "For the children, he wanted a future worthy of their aspirations and true to the values of America."
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said the Baltimore native stayed true to his city's roots, and famously walked its streets amid race-related riots.
"Every night, he rode the train back home and walked the neighborhoods, bullhorn in hand, encouraging unity and peace," McConnell said. "Here's what he said, 'Let's go home. Let's all go home.' Now our distinguished colleague truly has gone home. Home to his Father's house."
Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said he often sought out Cummings for guidance.
"He was strong. Very strong when necessary. But also kind and caring and honorable. Universally respected and admired in a divided time. His voice could shake mountains, stir the most cynical hearts and inspiring us all to do better ... Our country has lost a giant."
Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., considers Cummings a close friend and said earlier Thursday his speech would be the hardest he's ever given.
"He had a smile that could consume his whole face," he said at the ceremony. "But he also had eyes that would pierce through anybody that was standing in his way."
Unlike U.S. presidents, who lie in state in the Capitol Rotunda, as George H.W. Bush did last year, Cummings' casket was staged in the National Statuary Hall -- a large room just off the Rotunda that served as the House chamber for a half-century in the 1800s.
Lying in state is an honor reserved for government officials at the Capitol and typically includes a military guard. On Wednesday, Cummings lay in repose, which denotes simply a public viewing, at Baltimore's Morgan State University.
The last people to lie in state at the Capitol were Bush last December and Arizona Sen. John McCain four months earlier.
Cumming's body will be carried to Baltimore for a memorial service and burial Friday. Former President Barack Obama will speak at the service, his spokeswoman said. The 44th president was invited by Cummings' wife, Maya Rockeymoore Cummings.
"He'll deliver remarks about the remarkable life and legacy of one of this country's finest public servants," Obama communications director Katie Hill said.