C. Payne Lucas, Leader in Aid to Africa, Is Dead at 85

Africare C Payne Lucas

“My friends thought I was crazy,” C. Payne Lucas recalled of his efforts in the early 1970s to start a nonprofit organization in the United States to provide aid in Africa. “People used to say: ‘C. Payne, this is a stupid idea. You aren’t going to get black Americans to give you any money. They’re too tied up trying to get things accomplished here.’ ”

I’d never been to a country where blacks were in charge,” he said. “It inspired me to get past the neocolonialism. We were driven to do everything we could to make the country a success.

The logic was hard to fault. Racial tension, discrimination and economic inequality were everywhere in the United States, and the anger of the 1960s was still very much in evidence. In 1971 there were riots in Bridgeport, Conn.; Camden, N.J.; Chattanooga, Tenn.; and elsewhere.

Yet that very year, Mr. Lucas and several others started Africare, with the initial hope that at least some of its support would come from black Americans. And, especially once this fledgling organization began publicizing the effects of drought in the Sahel region of north-central Africa, it did.

“Suddenly all these people started coming in with contributions, most of them from the inner city,” Mr. Lucas recalled in a 1984 interview with The New York Times. “We had welfare mothers coming in with bags of change.”

From those humble beginnings, Africare grew into one of the leading nonprofits operating in Africa, with programs devoted to nutrition, sanitation, economic development, health care and more. In 2016 it had revenue of more than $34 million and spent more than $36 million.

Mr. Lucas, who was Africare’s president until he retired in 2002, died on Sept. 15 in Silver Spring, Md. He was 85. The cause was advanced dementia, his family said in a statement.

Robert L. Mallett, Africare’s current president and chief executive, called Mr. Lucas “a fierce and implacable advocate for Africa.”

“All who were blessed to know him,” he added, “knew that his energy and passion were unparalleled.”

Cleotha Payne Lucas (he disliked his first name and adopted the initial early) was born on Sept. 14, 1933, in Spring Hope, N.C., to William and Minnie Hendricks Lucas. His father was a sharecropper, and Mr. Lucas recalled picking cotton as a boy.

At C. C. Spaulding High School, he played baseball and honed his public speaking skills in the drama club and in oratorical competitions. After graduating in 1951, he enrolled at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, interrupting his studies there to serve four years in the Air Force beginning in 1952.

Returning to the college, he received a history degree in 1959, then earned a master’s in government at American University in Washington in 1961. He was an intern at the Department of Defense and a volunteer for the Democratic National Committee. When he told leaders there that he needed a paying job, they steered him toward the newly formed Peace Corps, where R. Sargent Shriver, the director, gave him a position in Washington as a desk officer for Togo.

“I didn’t know where it was,” Mr. Lucas told The Washington Post in 2002. “I hadn’t given a lot of thought to Africa.”

But he had found his calling, one that became clearer to him later when Mr. Shriver sent him to Togo to be a field officer.

“I’d never been to a country where blacks were in charge,” he said. “It inspired me to get past the neocolonialism. We were driven to do everything we could to make the country a success.”

He also worked in Niger and eventually became the Peace Corps’ director of the African region.

“I know a lot of African heads of state,” he said in 1984 — “some in jail, some out.”

His Niger connections led to Africare.

In 1970, Niger was afflicted by a drought, and a couple who worked in a hospital there, William and Barbara Kirker, formed a charity under the name Africare with the hope of providing medical care there. But Niger’s leaders felt the organization needed more clout and direction.

At the instigation of Niger’s president, Hamani Diori, Mr. Lucas was recruited to help create a more ambitious organization using the same name. Joseph C. Kennedy, another Peace Corps alumnus and an expert on international development, also took a leading role, and in 1971 Africare was reincorporated with a broader mission to serve any African country with any type of development or relief work.

Read more at The New York Times

Chariese ElizabethComment