Donald Payne, New Jersey's First Black Congressman, Dead at 77

 @julia_greenberg on March 06 2012 10:22 AM

Longtime U.S. Rep. Donald Payne died Tuesday after a brief battle with colon cancer. The New Jersey Congressman was 77.

Payne had announced in February that he was undergoing treatment for the disease, but said he was expected to make a full recovery, according to the Star Ledger. Sadly, his health took a turn for the worse last week.  

The longtime Democrat was the first African American elected to the House from New Jersey and was currently its only black Congressman prior to his death. Payne had served in the House for 12 terms, representing New Jersey's 10th Congressional District for more than 23 years. Payne had announced his plans last month to run for re-election this year, refusing to take a leave of absence despite his health conditions.

He's had a tremendous impact on the state, country and the world, Payne's brother, William, a former state assemblyman, told the Star Ledger.

Payne was best known for his work in the black community, particularly with education. He was a staunch advocate for making K-12 education in public schools more successful and for leading discussions on how to make college more affordable. He also helped push legislation to close the achievement gap, including the Expanding Learning Time Act, the Prescribe a Book Act, and the Youth Financial Education Act.

Although he maintained a low-key attitude, the Congressman also championed legislation to restore democracy and protect human rights around the world, particularly in Africa. As a senior member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Payne introduced the Microenterprise Act, which provides loans to small businesses in developing countries. Payne was also a major force behind the Sudan Peace Act, a measure approved by Congress to help provide a solution to the war in Sudan and facilitate famine relief efforts in Darfur.  

Payne is survived by three children, four grandchildren and one great grandchild. A special primary election will be held in the next few month, followed by a special election, to fill the now-open 10th District seat. 

Join the Discussion