Obituary: Donald Payne / New Jersey's only black congressman

July 16, 1934 - March 6, 2012
March 8, 2012 12:01 am
  • U.S. Rep. Donald Payne, D-N.J., 2009
    U.S. Rep. Donald Payne, D-N.J., 2009
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Donald Payne, New Jersey's first and so far only black congressman and a leading advocate for democracy in Africa during 23 years in the U.S. House of Representatives, has died. He was 77.

He died Tuesday at a hospital in Livingston, N.J., of complications from colon cancer, his office said.

The senior member of New Jersey's House delegation, Mr. Payne represented the 10th congressional district, which includes parts of Newark, Jersey City and Elizabeth, the state's urban core across the Hudson River from New York City, as well as suburbs including Maplewood and Millburn. He was a longtime member of House committees that oversee education and foreign affairs, and a former chairman of the foreign affairs subcommittee on Africa.

President Barack Obama, speaking at the end of a White House news conference, said Mr. Payne "was a wonderful man who did great work both domestically and internationally."

In New Jersey, Republican Gov. Chris Christie planned to order flags lowered in honor of Mr. Payne, according to his spokesman, Michael Drewniak.

"He was a great role model for every person in New Jersey who aspires to public service," Mr. Christie said in a statement. "He was a true gentleman and we considered him a friend."

On one of his many trips to the African continent, a 2009 visit to Somalia after a U.S. advisory against Americans visiting there, Mr. Payne narrowly escaped a mortar attack in the capital, Mogadishu. Islamist insurgents took responsibility for the attack on the Mogadishu airport as Mr. Payne was leaving.

An earlier trip to Africa was a 12-day tour with President Bill Clinton in 1998 to Ghana, Uganda, Rwanda, South Africa, Botswana and Senegal. Upon his return, Mr. Payne told the Associated Press that he hoped the coverage of the trip would give Americans a new awareness and appreciation of African countries that were making strides toward democracy.

"The only images during the past decade have been those of strife, disease, conflict, dictators, children starving," he said. "So for the first time, America had an opportunity to see a balanced picture of Africa."

In 2004, Congress passed a resolution introduced by Mr. Payne describing the killings in the Darfur region of Sudan as "genocide," the first time Congress had applied the term to an ongoing massacre, the New Yorker magazine reported.

First Published 2012-03-07 23:39:46

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