Black History Month is a time for reflection on those who paved the way, who, despite danger to themselves and their loved ones, crossed long-standing racial and social barriers.Almost everyone knows all the most prominent figures who helped to advance the cause of civil rights through their activism. But there are some lesser known individuals who have molded areas close to home. In the Ark-La-Tex area, there is one who stands out: the late Rev. Thadis Payne Sr.
He was born on July 15, 1931 in Bernice, to Isaac and Rosie Neal Payne. Before he became a pastor, Payne enlisted in the U.S. Army to serve his country, after graduating high school. After his stint in the armed forces, he decided to serve the masses in a different manner. He attended Bishop College Seminary and later graduated from the Urban Christian Leadership Foundation in Chicago. In the midst of all this, he managed to begin a family with Earnestine Thompson Payne in the 1956.
The soldier-turned-theologian started to pastor at various churches in Louisiana until he eventually found a permanent position at Evergreen Baptist Church in El Dorado, Ark.
Once firmly established in the community with his family, he began to be an civil rights activist.
Payne became president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in El Dorado and remained in service for 25 years. He worked for social and economic equality for blacks in El Dorado and surrounding cities in Union County. Some of the projects that Rev. Payne was influential in were the boycotting and picketing of business that refused to hire blacks and for fair and just treatment of black customers.
In 1975, Rev. Payne ran for the position of mayor of El Dorado, and though he did not win, he made history. He was the first black to run for the city’s top office.
Even his family helped to make milestones, namely his daughter Zondra Payne. She, along with Joanne Jones, were the first black children to attend the predominantly white school, South Side Elementary School.
After he and his wife finished their vigilant crusade for civil rights, they settled into Grambling, where he died in 2002. He was awarded the South Arkansas Community College Humanitarian Award, posthumously.
Rev. Payne’s life and many accomplishments teach that through faith, perseverance and hard work, anything is possible.