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Longtime arts advocate Donald Payne passed away on Tuesday, March 6th. The legacy that he leaves behind for the arts includes consistently scoring an “A” on the Arts Action Fund's Congressional Report Card while being a long time member of the Congressional Arts Caucus. We remember Representative Payne as a reliable voice for arts education on one of the most important committees affecting federal arts policy in the House of Representatives, the Education and Workforce Committee. Representative Payne championed amendments that supported arts education and added his name to policy proposals that preserved and strengthened the arts and arts education.
In New Jersey the Congressman is known for incorporating the arts into his passionate defense of human and civil rights recently holding a MLK Day event featuring student classical musicians from the Gray Charter School in Newark. In New Brunswick, Crossroads Theatre expressed their condolences for Representative Payne's passing. “The Congressman touched our theatre in a deeply personal way…We will all miss him dearly.”
Before entering Congress, Representative Payne taught English and Social Studies and coached football at South Side High School (now Malcolm X Shabazz High School). In 1970, he became the first African-American president of the National Council of Y.M.C.A.’s, and in 1982, was elected to the Newark Municipal Council. In 1988, Representative Payne campaigned as the Democratic candidate becoming New Jersey’s first African-American congressman.
Representing New Jersey’s 10th Congressional District, he joined the Congressional Black Caucus in 1989 and served as Chairman from 1995 to 1997. Also, while serving in the House, Representative Payne co-founded the Malaria Caucus which helped secure billions of dollars in foreign aid for the treating of H.I.V., A.I.D.S., tuberculosis and malaria.
Donald Milford Payne was born to William Evander Payne and Norma Garrett on July 16, 1934. Representative Payne was in his 12th term when he passed from complications due to colon cancer at age 77. His survivors include son, Donald Jr., a Newark councilman; two daughters, Nicole Payne and Wanda Payne; four grandchildren; and one great-grandchild. We at the Americans for the Arts Action Fund extend our condolences to his friends and family.
Congressman Payne, Marshall Jones (Crossroards Theatre Company ED), and Mamie Hansberry (sister of RAISIN IN THE SUN playwright Lorraine Hansbery)