The following remembrances and stories were submitted to social media or written about the late Les Payne following the passing of the journalism icon. To add yours, please submit to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
For anyone unable to attend the beautiful and inspirational homegoing service for Les Payne, Randy Daniels has graciously supplied a link here. It also was featured in Richard Prince’s journalisms.
Leslie Payne was the consummate journalist, a reporter and editor of unimpeachable integrity, and he could regale you with story after story on the people he knew and covered during his remarkable career. The journalism may have ended in 2006 when he retired, but he was still working determinedly to complete his biography of Malcolm X. We will have to wait on the status of that project. Payne, 76, died suddenly Monday night at his home in Harlem.
It is hard for me to be objective about Les—and objectivity was one of his calling cards—as he lived up the street from me and we would see each other in the neighborhood on many occasions during our walks. Those occasions allowed us to talk politics, and few were as up to date on local, national and international affairs as he was.
Les Payne Praised for Linking ‘Fairness,’ Journalism
March 28, 2018
Mourners and celebrants at the funeral service for Les Payne Tuesday in Harlem might be forgiven if they thought they were praising one of the last lions of journalism writ large and of the particular kind practiced by culturally aware and skillful black journalists.
They were not alone.
“Les and those guys were about a level of integrity that we are starting to lose,” Elmer Smith, retired Philadelphia Daily News columnist, said afterward. Smith was speaking of such pioneering black journalists as Acel Moore, Chuck Stone and Claude Lewis, all gone.
Joe Davidson, a Washington Post columnist and like Payne, Lewis, Moore and Stone a co-founder of the National Association of Black Journalists, told the more than 500 assembled at Abyssinian Baptist Church, “When needing direction, without talking to him, I would ask myself what would Les do. Now the question is, what will we do without Les?”
Rochelle Riley, columnist for the Detroit Free Press, said simply afterward, “We are losing our lions.”
The service was streamed and is still available for viewing.
Remarks of Randy A. Daniels At the Funeral of Les Payne
Abyssinian Baptist Church
March 27, 2018
Good Morning brothers and sisters, I have come today not just to bury my friend Les Payne, but also to praise him.
I met Les 40 years ago in the lobby of the Monomotapa Hotel in what was then Salisbury, Rhodesia. As journalists covering the brutal war for Zimbabwe’s independence from white minority rule, we saw ourselves as young, gifted and very, very black.
Les was impressive even then; he had the intellect of Dubois, the fearlessness of Malcolm, and the formidable presence of Sonny Liston.
We became fast friends and ultimately Harlem neighbors on St. Nicholas Ave. Our children grew up together and my daughters always called him uncle Les.
When I remarried 12 years ago in Puerto Rico, Les Payne stood with Sallie and I as best man. You could not have a better or more loyal friend.
Brothers and sisters this was a good and decent man who lived an exemplary life.
Les was also an excellent husband and father, both loving and nurturing. He was a man faith, but he pledged no allegiance to any dogma. He understood that while we look to the hills from whence cometh our help, that here on earth God’s work must truly be our own.
He was also a soldier-scholar, a tough US army ranger who rose to captain in Vietnam and understood better than the Generals, the
powerful forces of anti-colonialism and self-determination.
This Vietnam experience informed Les’ thinking and reporting, from the Pulitzer Prize winning Newsday series on heroin trafficking, to his outstanding series on apartheid South Africa for which he was voted a second Pulitzer Prize, only to have the decision inexplicably overturned and awarded to a rival New York newspaper.
While he always put our people first, Les Payne was not an activist; he was a crusading journalist in the noble tradition of Monroe Trotter. He was the conscience of the African-American people.
He believed in reporting the truth without fear or favor and held everybody accountable. He insisted, “The people can always be trusted with the truth”.
Les recently said “we must always show strength in the face of oppression” and he railed against many well-intentioned people, who advocate immediate submission to abusive police practices as the price for not being summarily executed on the streets of America’s cities.
Les Payne was a truth teller. The prose that flowed from his pen had the debilitating sting of a stiff jab to the face.
This brother was fearless, he exposed racism, brutality and corruption and he got a lot of hate mail as a result.
But Les Payne could not be intimidated, he could not be bought and he never ever backed down. Les’ advice to young journalist has always been “tell the truth and duck.”
I would occasionally call him for a comedy break. I would insist that it was my duty to keep him fully abreast of all ignorance and stupidity I encountered in high and low places around the world.
He would start laughing before I could tell him a story and I would laugh all the way through while telling it. Our children wondered how we understood each other while laughing.
He loved sports, art, music, literature, history and politics; he was a true renaissance man. In the deep, dark, dense forest that journalism has become, Les Payne was one of it tallest trees.
Looking back on his extraordinary run as a columnist, Les would say “a newspaper column is a made up mind”, people know where you stand; and he considered it his job as a columnist to “afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted.”
Our dear brother has now finished his assignment here on earth. But, Les’ legacy is in safe hands.
Vi, my sister, I can offer no words that can undo your loss or eliminate your pain.
But I offer you this; there is a living and loving God of the ages who knows our head and our heart, he will continue to comfort and keep you in the hollow of his hand. Just keep the faith.
Brothers and sisters, here in this historic and sacred place, as we mourn Les Payne let us also celebrate him.
In this holiest of weeks, let us rejoice that such a man lived, loved and laughed with us.
Rejoice that our brother has gone from labor to reward. Rejoice that he now leans on the everlasting arm.
Rejoice for Les Payne has now seen the face of almighty God
And heard the words all people of faith long to hear “well done my good and faithful servant”.
Rise my brothers and sisters and join me in applauding the exceptional life of Les Payne.
Newsday’s Les Payne hailed as journalistic force, ‘superhero’
Pulitzer Prize winner eulogized for key role in turning Newsday into a major journalistic force as it dug into Long Island and spread its reach around the globe.
Several hundred people packed Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem on Tuesday for the funeral of Pulitzer Prize-winning Newsday journalist Les Payne, hailing him not only as a legendary African-American reporter and columnist but also as a devoted family man whose son called him “my first superhero.”
Payne, who died last week at 76, apparently of a heart attack, was saluted for his groundbreaking work in South Africa during the Soweto uprising of the 1970s and ’80s, his mentoring of a generation of younger journalists, and his devotion to racial equality.
Payne “had the intellect of [W.E.B.] Du Bois, the fearlessness of Malcolm X, and the formidable presence of Sonny Liston,” former journalist Randy Daniels, who met Payne while covering the war of liberation in Zimbabwe in the 1970s, told mourners.
Pioneering Black Journalist Les Payne Has Died at Age 76
The fearless Pulitzer Prize-winning Newsday reporter and editor, who was a founding member of NABJ, paved the way for journalists of color
On Monday night, pioneering black journalist Les Payne died at his home in Harlem, New York. The Pulitzer-Prize winning reporter combined a passion for racial equality in the newsroom with a flare for deep, and often dangerous investigative journalism. As Bart Jones at Newsday reports, his son Jamal Payne said the 76-year-old died while working on a new book about Malcolm X. He attributed the cause of death to a heart attack.
Payne was born in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, in 1941, and picked cotton alongside his grandmother as a child. Though his family moved to Connecticut when he was a preteen, those early days in the Jim Crow South impacted him deeply. “Being born in Alabama under an apartheid system,” he once told Newday, “my whole life — in my professional life and career — has been about improving conditions for African Americans in this country.”
After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Connecticut in 1964, he served in the U.S. Army for several years and then devoted his career to working at Newsday. Starting as a cub reporter in 1969, over time he helped transform what was once a suburban newspaper focused on Long Island into a world-class journalistic powerhouse.
Les Payne, 76, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist
Les Payne, an award-winning journalist whose career spanned more than four decades, has died. He was 76.
Payne’s family confirmed his death to Newsday, where he worked for nearly four decades, rising through the ranks from reporter to associate managing editor. The newspaper reported Tuesday that Payne died unexpectedly Monday night at his home in Harlem.
Les Payne, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who spent his career at Newsday expanding coverage beyond local issues to include international stories first as a reporter, then as a columnist and editor — all while vehemently crusading for racial equality — has died at his home in Harlem, N.Y. He was 76.
Payne’s son Jamal told Newsday that the retired journalist was working on a book about Malcom X when he had a heart attack in his home office Monday evening.
Over nearly four decades, Payne, who was born in the Jim Crow South, proudly talked about his career in journalism as a calling — and a mandate to bring about social change.
“Being born in Alabama under an apartheid system,” he said in an interview with Newsday, “my whole life — in my professional life and career — has been about improving conditions for African Americans in this country.”
Trailblazing black journalist Les Payne showed no fear in pursuit of the truth
He’ll be remembered as an NABJ founder and Pulitzer Prize winner, and a mentor and role model to many
March 21, 2018
My friend Les Payne is dead.
During his 38-year journalism career, Les had many close encounters with death. He once escaped the Mediterranean island of Corsica just minutes ahead of the thugs whom a drug dealer sent to his hotel to “turn out his lights.”
On another occasion, Les found himself staring down the barrels of guns when a car he was riding in was stopped by soldiers of a rival guerrilla army faction in the newly created African nation of Zimbabwe. Les was held for hours and threatened with execution by an officer who mistook him for a spy.
Then, while in California trying to make contact with the Symbionese Liberation Army, a black revolutionary group that kidnapped heiress Patty Hearst, Les was confronted by a gun-wielding SLA member who ordered him into a phone booth. Les had only minutes to live, the man said, if he couldn’t get someone on the phone at Newsday, the Long Island, New York, newspaper where he spent his entire career, to prove that he was a journalist.
And there was the late-night run-in that Les had with two of Ugandan dictator Idi Amin’s secret policemen that produced another life-threatening experience for him.
Les Payne, Hartford Product
Pulitzer Prize-Winning Journalist,
Dies at 76
In 2003, Les Payne returned to the school where he’d enrolled as an engineer and left as a newspaperman. “It was on this campus that I first dreamed of becoming a journalist and traveling the world in pursuit of truth and adventure,” he told UConn’s class of 2003, which had invited him to speak at graduation. Payne’s search for the two — truth and adventure — took him across America, to Africa and to Turkey, over four decades of reporting the news.
The last time I saw NABJ Founder/President Les Payne was last November. I grew closer to him after Acel Moore died. He recently penned his reflections on the Kerner Commission Report’s 50th Anniversary for NABJ (possibly his last published piece before his passing). Here, I’m cheering Founder Payne on at the Deadline Club at his NY Journalism Hall of Fame induction. His son Jamal shared he was so proud that there was a 21st president of NABJ because that meant the organization was thriving for 40+ years. Now, that’s got me excited and looking forward to the future NABJ leaders decades ahead. I can’t wait to meet the 42nd president 40 years from now… #onwardupward #legacy #RIP 🙏🏽 💜
Fourth NABJ President Spent
38 Years at Newsday
Les Payne, a thought leader for journalists of all colors in a career that saw him share a Pulitzer Prize, become a co-founder and fourth president of the National Association of Black Journalists and a top editor and columnist for Newsday, died Monday night after collapsing outside his New York home, family members said. He was 76.
Payne had a massive heart attack and was taken to Columbia-Presbyterian Hospital, where doctors pronounced him dead, his son Jamal Payne told Journal-isms by telephone on Tuesday.
“He wanted to make our lot in America better, Jamal Payne said, speaking of African Americans, “and I think he accomplished that. He made the world a better place. He left us the task of continuing the work that he started.”
When Payne retired in 2006 as associate editor of the Long Island newspaper Newsday, Editor John Mancini said Payne had “produced a weekly column that was so strong, so provocative and generated so much hate mail that Newsday editors got to know the names of all the Suffolk County Police Department’s bomb-sniffing dogs.”
The Editorial Board
Les Payne last emailed a few weeks ago. The former Newsday assistant managing editor and columnist was noting the 50th anniversary of the Kerner Commission report on the devastating race riots of the 1960s.
It faulted newspapers and TV news for failing to report clearly on African American life and for employing so few blacks to better shape and inform the reporting, what it called “white men’s eyes and white perspective.” It was the impetus for Newsday’s hiring of the Army Ranger captain just returning from Vietnam who interviewed in his Army uniform. On Monday, the loss of his gentle wisdom and boisterous laugh deeply saddened the journalism community.