Donald M. Payne was the first African American elected to Congress from New Jersey. He had been a public school teacher in Newark and Passaic, and the first African-American President of the National YMCA before running for Congress in 1988. He represented the 10th Congressional district, which included the cities of Newark, Jersey City and Elizabeth.
Payne had announced last month that he was undergoing treatment for colon cancer, but he was suddenly hospitalized on Friday at Georgetown University Hospital and then transported to New Jersey in an air-ambulance.
The President expressed his condolences to Payne’s family at the end of his press conference today. The House held a moment of silence for him and accolades and tributes have been expressed by many members fo the House. During his career, he focused on many educational issues and served as the head of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, the educational and outreach arm of the Black Caucus. He was a member of both the House Education and Workforce Committee and the House Foreign Affairs Committee. His activities in those capacities included traveling to Darfur and Rwanda, two places that exemplified his commitment to justice and protection of the weakest among us.
A widower, Payne is survived by three children, four grandchildren and one great-grandchild. His son, Donald M. Payne, Jr., is president of the Newark Municipal Council and an Essex County Freeholder-at-Large.