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Funeral services set for Newsday journalist Les Payne

Newsday Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Les Payne in 2002.

Newsday Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Les Payne in 2002. Credit: Newsday / Alan Raia

Funeral arrangements are set for Les Payne, the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and columnist for Newsday who championed racial equality and investigated injustice from Long Island to South Africa.

A public viewing for Payne, who was 76 when he died Monday of a heart attack, will be held 5 to 8 p.m. Monday at Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem.

The funeral will be at 10 a.m. Tuesday at the church with burial following in Long Island National Cemetery, Pinelawn. The cemetery is across from Newsday, where Payne worked for nearly four decades as a reporter, editor and columnist.

Funeral arrangements are by Benta’s Funeral Home in Harlem.

Payne, raised in Alabama, had a reputation as a sharp and fearless chronicler of his time, whether he was going undercover to expose the treatment of migrant farmworkers on Long Island or tracking down heroin kingpins in Europe.

He was part of Newsday’s Pulitzer Prize-winning team that produced the 33-part “Heroin Trail” series in 1974. The series tracked the movement of heroin from Turkey to the streets of America.

In 1976, Payne traveled to South Africa and documented that the apartheid government had vastly underreported the number of black South Africans killed in the Soweto uprising — 250, as opposed to the 850 Payne determined.

He was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for International Reporting and earned himself the wrath of the South African government, which barred him from the country.

Despite that, he sneaked back into South Africa in 1985 to write about civil unrest as the nation grappled with apartheid.

Payne also trained his keen, discerning eye on injustice on Long Island, including the housing bias he experienced here.

“For decades, Les Payne, through his reporting and commentary, served as the conscience of Long Island, raising issues of racial and social justice that a portion of our audience living in a largely, white suburban community didn’t always want to confront,” said former Newsday editor Howard Schneider, dean of the Stony Brook University School of Journalism. “It made him controversial, sometimes unpopular, but always on the right side of history.”

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