The eastern U.S. state of New Jersey's first black congressman, Representative Donald Payne, has died after a battle with colon cancer. Sources close to the 77-year-old Payne say he died Tuesday at a New Jersey hospital. U.S. President Barack Obama Tuesday expressed his condolences to Payne's family at the end of a news briefing. He called Payne "a wonderful man" and a friend who "did great work, both domestically and internationally."
Payne announced last month that he was undergoing cancer treatment, but said he would continue to represent his district. The lawmaker had held his congressional seat since 1988 and was elected to a 12th term in 2010.
Payne drew international attention in April 2009, when during a visit to Somalia, insurgents fired mortar shells toward the Mogadishu airport as he was departing the capital city by plane. Payne left the airport safely, but there were civilian injuries from the mortar fire.
Payne had been in Somalia to meet with the president and prime minister about piracy, security and cooperation.
Africare President Darius Mans was among the first to react to the death of Congressman Donald Payne. He said the congressman’s passing is a real loss for the United States and Africa.
“He was a great champion for Africa,” he said. “I can never forget his level of personal commitment. Whenever you needed something done on Africa, he made sure it happened.”
Mans said whether it took phone calls to the White House or rallying members of the U.S. Congress, “Donald Payne always delivered for Africa.”
During part of his long tenure in Congress, Payne served as chairman of the House Subcommittee on Africa and Global Health.
Africare President Darius Mans said Congressman Payne’s Africa legacy is significant.
“From Sudan to Rwanda to the fight to end apartheid, no member of congress was more of a champion for Africa.” He said, “Congressman Payne helped secure more than 100-million dollars for HIV/AIDS, particularly in Africa. He was a real champion for Sudan and the recognition of South Sudan.”
On the home front, Donald Payne was the first African American elected to represent New Jersey in Congress. Mans said Payne pursued twin missions during his decades of public service.
“He saw his constituency as including Africa, in addition to representing New Jersey so well,” he said. “I think Donald Payne will go down as the conscience of the congress on Africa.”