Mourners arrive at Newark church for funeral of Congressman Donald Payne
March 14, 2012 by admin
NEWARK — Former President Bill Clinton and Gov. Chris Christie have arrived at the Metropolitan Baptist Church, as people continue to filter into the funeral service for U.S Rep. Donald Payne in Newark this morning.
Hundreds attend a procession honoring the late U.S. Rep. Donald Payne Sr. with a horse-drawn military caisson. The public walk, from Whigham Funeral Home on MLK Boulevard winds through Newark to Metropolitan Baptist Church on Springfield Avenue where the wake will take place Tuesday night and funeral service will be held on Wednesday. The 77-year-old statesman died March 6 of colon cancer. (Jennifer Brown /The Star-Ledger)
Rep. Bill Pascrell, Rep. Rob Andrews, U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, former Newark Mayor Sharpe James and former Gov. Jim Florio were among those filling out the capacity crowd as mourners filed past Payne’s open casket, half draped in the American flag.
In addition to Clinton and Christie, Attorney General Eric Holder, U.S. Rep. John Lewis and Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg have all arrived for the Payne funeral
A roster of political brass are scheduled to speak in an anticipated three-hour ceremony. Clinton, Holder, Christie, and Secretary Of Transportation Ray La Hood are among the more than 30 speakers scheduled to give remarks.
Former Attorney General Paula Dow and Essex County Sheriff Armando Fontoura are also in attendance.
Stepping out of a black town car, the two top law enforcement officials joined about 2 dozen people clad in black outside the church around 10 a.m.
Newark City Council President Donald Payne Jr. stepped out of a black limousine around 10:40 a.m. as honorees continue to pour in for his father’s funeral.
City Council members Ron Rice Jr., Darrin Sharif and Mildred Crump, as well as Orange Mayor Eldridge Hawkins Jr. have also entered the Metropolitan Baptist Church to pay their final respects to U.S. Rep Donald Payne.
Rev. David Jefferson is giving the opening prayer as the Payne family approaches the casket.
Dressed in a navy suit with a blue and white striped tie, Payne almost looked like he was taking a nap inside his flag-draped casket — which had the U.S. House of Representatives seal emblazoned on the top lid.
Some whispered about how they just had a lunch meeting with him the other day, while others chatted about all the dignitaries — like Clinton — that were scheduled to show up for his funeral service.
Rev. Jesse Jackson, Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo and Sheriff Armando Fontoura were just a few that arrived shortly before the funeral began.
Just before Payne’s family entered the church, a hush came over the mourners, who all stood while the choir lightly hummed a gospel tune.
The roughly 57-member choir accompanied by flute, keyboard and saxophone provide a quiet musical backdrop to the opening of the service.
Around 11:15, Payne Jr., closed the coffin for the final view of his father.
Gov. Christie said he read over some of Payne’s quotes just before the funeral and was struck by one in particular where Payne spoke about wanting to be a role model to young people on the street corners of Newark.
“‘I want to give them a reason to try,’” said Christie as he read the end of Payne’s quote.
“He did. He did,” added Christie.
Christie said Payne would tell you he never stopped being a teacher and the thing that struck him most about the congressman was “his gentle power.”
As he described how some are brash with power, while others are gentle, the crowd began to chuckle.
“Congressman Payne and I complimented each other,” he said.
“As we celebrate his life today and as we say goodbye, we thank him for his gentle grace … Standing up for those who had trouble standing up for themselves,” Christie added. “To make us a better people — he did that for New Jersey, he did that for America.”
“Donald Payne changed the world,” Christie said.
During his address, Rev. Al Sharpton said some officials get so big that they become useless to the people.
“What made him loved is he was not only global but grounded,” said Rev. Al Sharpton of Payne.
“Donald Payne never forgot why Newark sent him to Trenton and to Washington,” he said. “We never worried when Donald Payne was in the room.”
Sharpton said Payne could be gentle and quiet because he was secure in who he was and that it is why “Newark stands still today” for him.
At one point, Sharpton said Payne would meet with kings and then come talk to kids on the street corners of Newark, adding that he never “suffered from Negro-amnesia.”
Some mourners quickly erupted in laughter.
Sharpton also reminded the crowd that they too will one day have a day like this.
“You just don’t know the date,” he said.
“Donald lived his eulogy,” Sharpton added. “When your time comes, what can we say about you.”
More than a dozen members of the Union of Liberian Associations in America’s (ULLA) New Jersey chapter were hovering a block away from the funeral, standing under a banner bearing Payne’s picture on Mercer Street.
The men and women assembled there referred to Payne as a father-figure to Liberians in both the United States and at home.
“Donald Payne was like a citizen of Liberia. He adopted Liberia as his second home,” said 55-year-old Othello Brandy, wearing a white tee-shirt that reffered to Payne as an “African Hero.” “That’s why we have to be here. He was there for us. He brought peace to us.”
James Savice, the president of ULLA’s Northern New Jersey chapter, said Payne will be remembered as an unforgettable figure in his country’s culture.
“We are here to pay our respects to a fallen hero. He was a voice crying out for Liberian,” Savice said. “He stood for everyone, but Payne was a father to us.”
The funeral, which is open to the public, has also drawn some Newark residents. A half dozen men and women wearing tee shirts reading “Liberians mourn an African hero” under their funeral attire have assembled outside the church.
“Why do the good ones always go first?” asked one woman in the group.
Payne was regarded as a civil rights champion for Africa during his time in Congress.
The funeral service marks the end of a three day goodbye to Newark’s elder statesmen, which also included public memorials and processions throughout the city’s Central Ward.
The public shows of support continued this morning. Several flags hung at half staff at nearby schools and municipal complexes, and the Newark Fire Department blocked off Springfield Avenue with a pair of ladder trucks suspending a large American Flag between them.
The U.S. Army Military District of Washington, which exercises oversight of all joint service ceremonies in the National Capital Region, and elsewhere as directed, is tasked with providing support for portions of Payne’s funeral.