United States Representative Donald Payne, known for his work on human rights and on behalf of the poor, died Tuesday. He was 77.
Payne, the first Black congressional member from New Jersey, died at St. Barnabas Hospital in Livingston. The 12-term member of the House had announced in February that he was undergoing treatment for colon cancer and would continue to represent his district. He was flown back home to New Jersey on Friday from Georgetown University Hospital as his health took a sudden turn for the worse.
Payne was born in Newark and was a 1952 graduate of Barringer High School. He was awarded undergraduate degree at Seton Hall University and did postgraduate works in Springfield College in Massachusetts. Before being elected to Congress in 1988, Payne was an executive at Prudential Financial, vice president of Urban Data Systems Inc., and a teacher in the Newark Public Schools.
In 1970, Payne became the first Black president of the National Council of YMCAs. From 1973 to 1981, he was chairman of the World YMCA Refugee and Rehabilitation Committee.
Payne’s political career began in 1972, when he was elected to the Essex County Board of Chosen Freeholders, serving three terms. In 1982, he was elected to the Newark Municipal Council and served three terms, resigning in 1988, shortly after his election to Congress.
Payne was considered one of the most progressive Democrats in the state’s delegation. He represented the 10th District, which includes Newark and parts of Essex, Hudson and Union counties. Payne was known as a tireless advocate for his constituents, a champion of education and an ambassador to Africa. He helped secure $100 million to help prevent and treat malaria and HIV/AIDS, mostly in sub-Saharan Africa.
Payne was recognized for having the most supportive record on issues regarding the Northern Ireland peace process. He helped win passage of a resolution declaring the killing in Darfur genocide, and he authored the Sudan Peace Act, facilitating famine relief efforts.
Payne was up for re-election this year and facing a primary in June. Despite his condition, he vowed to run again only last month and refused to take a leave of absence.
Being such a dedicated advocate to the African American community and a vital member of Congress many took the time to honor and show their respect and appreciation for his work.
President Barack Obama, who ordered flags lowered in Payne’s honor, called him a “leader in U.S.-Africa policy, making enormous contributions towards helping restore democracy and human rights across the continent.”
U.S. Rep. Karen Bass released the following statement:
Today as we mourn the loss of our friend and colleague Congressman Don Payne, I’d like to offer my deepest condolences to the many people he inspired throughout his more than two decades as a committed public servant in Congress. As a member of both the Congressional Black Caucus and the House Foreign Affairs Committee, I had the unique opportunity to serve with Congressman Payne as he worked to provide a voice to many of the world’s most vulnerable populations in America and abroad with his work in Africa.”
Payne was a member of House committees on education and foreign affairs. He also had served as chairman of the House subcommittee on Africa, and had traveled many times to the continent on foreign affairs matters. He also had been the chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus and a congressional delegate to the United Nations.
Payne was a widower with three children and four grandchildren. Services were not yet announced.