My Friend Les Payne Said 'Tell The Truth And Duck" -- Tribute by Randy Daniels

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Les Payne interviews Nelson Mandela after his release in 1990.
 
 

Remark 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.

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