March 3, 2009


Freeholders Pay Tribute to Congressman Donald M. Payne,
N.J. Secretary of State Nina Mitchell Wells and Rutgers Professor Dr. Clement A. Price

(Newark, NJ) – The Essex County Board of Chosen Freeholders held its Annual African-American History Month Celebration on Friday, February 27th, in the Lobby at the Hall of Records.  The highlight of the program was the presentation of plaques and commendations to this year’s distinguished honorees: U. S. Congressman Donald M. Payne (10th Cong. Dist.), N. J. Secretary of State Nina Mitchell Wells and Rutgers-Newark Professor of History, Dr. Clement A. Price.

The event was a collaborative effort of the Freeholder Board and the Offices of the Essex County Register of Deeds and Mortgages and County Clerk.  The sponsors were Freeholder President Blonnie R. Watson of Newark, Freeholder D. Bilal Beasley of Irvington, Freeholder Carol Y. Clark of East Orange, Freeholder Donald M. Payne, Jr., of Newark, Freeholder Rufus I. Johnson of Newark, Register Carole A. Graves and Deputy County Clerk Arthur L. Wright.

Donald M. Payne, a native of Newark, was elected to represent New Jersey’s 10th Congressional District in 1988 as the state’s first African-American Congressman, and was re-elected to his 11th consecutive term in November of 2008.  Congressman Payne is the past Chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, is a member of the House Democratic Leadership Advisory Group, and formerly served on the powerful Democratic Steering Committee.  He is a member of the House Committee on Education and Labor, where he serves on the Subcommittee on Workforce Protections and the Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary and Secondary Education.  He is also a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, where he serves as Chairman of the Subcommittee on Africa and Global Health, and as a member of the subcommittees on the Western Hemisphere and International Organizations, Human Rights and Oversight.  In 2003 and 2005, President Bush appointed Congressman Payne to serve as a Congressional delegate to the United Nations, and last year, Speaker Nancy Pelosi appointed him to serve on the House Democracy Assistance Commission.  Prior to his service in Washington, D.C., Congressman was a teacher in the Newark Public Schools, and served on both the Newark Municipal Council and the Essex County Board of Chosen Freeholders.  He is a graduate of Seton Hall University, the father of three, including Freeholder Donald M. Payne, Jr., the grandfather of four and the great-grandfather of one.

 Nina Mitchell Wells, Esq., of Livingston, was appointed as New Jersey’s 32nd Secretary of State by Governor Jon S. Corzine in January of 2006.  In her cabinet position, Secretary Wells is charged with responsibility for the promotion and preservation of the arts, history and culture of the Garden State by overseeing the Department of State’s agencies: Archives and Records Management; the NJ Historical Commission; the NJ Council on the Arts; the NJ Cultural Trust; the NJ State Museum; the NJ Martin Luther King, Jr., Commission; the NJ Commission on American Indian Affairs; the Governor’s Office of Volunteerism; AmeriCorps; the Office of Faith Based Initiatives; the NJ Division of Travel and Tourism; the NJ Israel Commission; the War Memorial and the Division of Elections.  An attorney, Secretary Wells graduated from Suffolk University Law School and began her legal career as Assistant Corporation Counsel in the City of Newark’s Law Department, before going on to practice corporate law for NJ Bell Telephone, Bell Communications Research, Inc., and the CIT Group.  She was head of the Division of Rate Counsel in the Department of Public Advocate under Governor Florio and was Assistant Dean and Director of the Minority Student Program and Financial Aid at Rutgers Law School.  Just prior to becoming Secretary of State, she served as Vice President of Public Affairs for Schering-Plough Corporation and President of its Foundation.  Secretary Wells is married to attorney Ted Wells, and they are the proud parents of two adult children, Teresa and Phillip.

Dr. Clement Alexander Price is a Board of Governors Distinguished Service Professor History and Director of the Institute on Ethnicity, Culture, and the Modern Experience at Rutgers University, Newark Campus.  He is widely recognized as the foremost authority on the history of New Jersey’s African-American community by virtue of his Freedom Not Far Distant: A Documentary History of Afro-American in New Jersey (1980), as well as the publication of countless other of his works, including: “New Jersey and the Near Collapse of Civic Culture: Reflections on the Summer of 1967” (The Hall Institute of Public Policy, NJ – 2007) and “Home and Hearth: The Black Town and Settlement Movement of Southern New Jersey” (Small Towns, Black Lives: African American Communities in Southern New Jersey, Wendel A. White – 2003), among so many others.  As a leading public intellectual in New Jersey, he has been the recipient of many awards for academic and community service, including a Lifetime Achievement Award from Local Initiatives Support Corporation (2008); New Jersey Professor of the Year by the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (1999); induction into the Rutgers University Hall of Distinguished Alumni (2006); and in 2007, “The Once and Future Newark”. a documentary hosted by Dr. Price, was honored by the Garden State Journalists Association as Video of the Year.  He is a trustee of the Urban Libraries Council and the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, President of the Newark Public Schools Foundation, and a Member of the Scholarly Advisory Committee to the National Museum of African American History and Culture at the Smithsonian Institute.  Most recently, he was agency lead for the National Endowment for the Humanities on President Obama’s Transition Team.  Dr. Price is married to Mary Sue Sweeney Price, Director of the Newark Museum.

At the conclusion of the program, guests were invited to a Reception on the 5th Floor of the Hall of Records.

Entertainment for the Celebration included musical performances by Hunter Hayes and a poetic presentation by Dolores “Bobby” Reilly.



(l. to r.) Dr. Clement A. Price, NJ Secretary of State Nina Mitchell Wells and US Congressman Donald M. Payne

(front row, l. to r.) Freeholder President Blonnie R. Watson, Register Carole A. Graves, Dr. Clement A. Price, NJ Sec'y of State Nina Mitchell Wells, US Congressman Donald M. Payne, Deputy County Clerk Arthur L. Wright and Freeholder Donald M. Payne, Jr.
(back row, l. to r.) Freeholder D. Bilal Beasley, Freeholder Carol Y. Clark, Freeholder Rufus I. Johnson

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
For Additional Information:
Gary Kroessig, Public Information
Essex County Board of Chosen Freeholders
973-621-5696 (fax)