ObituaryBlack Experience

Les Payne, 76, Pulitzer Prize-Winning Black Journalist, Dies

Newsday reporter Les Payne, who helped pave the way for a generation of Black journalists, died March 19 in Manhattan. He was 76.

Payne, who lived in Harlem, apparently suffered a heart attack and was taken to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead, his family said.

As far back as 1969, when he joined Newsday, Payne had been exposing inequality and racial injustice wherever he found it, whether it was apartheid in South Africa, illegally segregated schools in the American South or redlining by real estate agents in suburban New York.

He was on the team of reporters that won a Pulitzer Prize for public service in 1974 for a 33-part series, “The Heroin Trail,” which traced a narcotics scourge from its source in Turkey to the streets of the U.S.

In addition to his duties as a foreign correspondent, Payne taught at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and served as a founding member and former president of the National Association of Black Journalists.

He retired from Newsday in 2006 as associate managing editor in charge of national and international coverage.

NABJ President Sarah Glover said Payne’s work was both inspiring and encouraging.

“NABJ Founder and President Les Payne was a legendary journalist whose eloquent writing brought passion and truth-telling to an industry too often tone deaf to the issues impacting communities of color,” Glover said. “Payne fought to change that with NABJ’s other illustrious founders. Payne’s bold words and writings showed us why it’s important to be a present Black journalist in the newsroom every day. He was a quiet, courageous and loving leader. His legacy lives on in us.”

Payne’s widow, Violet, said her husband was a mentor to younger journalists and maintained high hopes for them.

“I feel very humbled to have been his wife,” she said. “I enjoy hearing about all the people that he inspired. He had such great hope for the younger generation to carry on.”

He is survived by his wife, Violet, and children Tamara, Jamal and Haile.

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