And Les Payne, the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and assistant managing editor and columnist for Newsday, has died suddenly at the age of 76. Payne was a champion for racial equality and a groundbreaking journalist who exposed racial injustice from Long Island, New York, to apartheid South Africa. He won a Pulitzer Prize for his work on a 33-part series entitled “The Heroin Trail,” in which he and other reporters traced the drug from the poppy fields of Turkey to the streets of U.S. cities. Les Payne was a founding member and former president of the National Association of Black Journalists. For years, he’s been working on an unfinished biography of Malcolm X. This is Les Payne, reading his essay “The Night I Stopped Being a Negro,” about his experience hearing Malcolm X speak at Bushnell Memorial Hall in Hartford, Connecticut, in June 1963. At the time, Payne was one of only 60 African-American students at the University of Connecticut—out of 10,000 enrolled students.
Les Payne: “By the end of the lecture, I felt—and knew—that something within me had changed, this time irreversibly. Whites henceforth would no longer be superior. Blacks—most important, I, myself—would no longer be inferior. This cardinal message, powerfully delivered to millions, would make Malcolm X a treasure for black liberation and a serious threat to white America. Until this June night, I had been imprisoned. But Malcolm X shook my dungeons, and, as a poet said, my chains fell off. I had entered Bushnell Hall as a Negro, with a capital N, and I wandered out into the parking lot as a black man.”
Groundbreaking journalist Les Payne died after suffering a heart attack in his home in Harlem, New York, on Monday. He was 76 years old.