Payne Papers: 13,000 documents from N.J.'s first African American Congressman find home at Seton Hall

By Jessica Mazzola | NJ Advance Media for
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on February 09, 2015

Congressman Donald Payne speaks during the announcement of a $7 million federal grant for New Jersey fire departments at the Newark Fire Training Academy. April 27, 2011.


SOUTH ORANGE — More than 13,000 documents chronicling the political career of New Jersey's first African American Congressman have found a new home.

Seton Hall University announced late last week that its library system has acquired the Donald M. Payne Papers, a historical manuscript from the late Congressman, who represented the state's 10th Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1989 until his death in 2012. The collection is made up of more than 13,000 items, including legislative documentation, research files, news clippings, photographs, and AV recordings, the school said in an announcement about the acquisition.

"My father lived a fascinating and fruitful life, dedicated to human rights and conflict resolution. Anyone reviewing the collection will find insight and inspiration, not only through my father's work as a Congressman, but his life-long passion and dedication to making the world a better place," Payne's son, Donald Jr., who currently holds the Congressional seat his father once did, said in a statement about the acquisition.

Payne Sr., a Newark native and an alum of the university, was a teacher, Prudential executive, Newark Councilman, and Essex County Freeholder. As a Congressman, he was known for championing education in the U.S., and helping fight disease as a de facto ambassador to Africa.

"Congressman Payne was a proud Seton Hall alumnus, and the university is honored to be chosen as the home for the records of his time in office," the school's Libraries Dean John Buschman said in a statement.

"His work on health issues in Africa, on education and on human rights and social justice were three important themes that he stressed and worked on continuously in his two-plus decades in Congress. His papers are sure to be of interest to both researchers and the general public alike."

Seton Hall and South Orange are located in the state's 10th Congressional District, which Payne represented.

Last year, FBI records showed that Payne had been investigated in a federal probe into campaign fraud allegations in the 1980's. He was never charged.

The Congressman's legacy focuses on the work he did domestically and abroad while a member of the House of Representatives. When he died after a bout with colon cancer in 2012, politicians across the country, including President Barack Obama and former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, expressed condolences.

"My brother was a player on the world stage," William Payne, his brother's former political partner, said in a statement about the Payne Papers.

"Here was someone who had a major impact on the conflict in Northern Ireland, in Africa and at home. He was committed to trying to make this a better world. He started in Newark and took it around the world."

The Payne Papers are added to a collection the university library system already has, those of Peter Rodino, the representative who preceded Payne in the 10th Congressional District.

"The materials offer insight into one congressional district over more than six decades," Buschman said.

"With the addition of the Payne papers, we have the papers of a recent congressman involved in recent policy. Documents such as these are not always available to the public so quickly."

Payne, Jr. said in a statement that he felt his father would have wanted the documents available to his constituents.

"I know he would want us to donate this treasured collection to his much-loved alma mater so they could be made available to students, researchers and scholars interested in the work of Congress."

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