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Clara Louise Payne

She was born in Buffalo, NY. She was accomplished in the area of Community. She later died on 9-5-1958.
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Clara Louise Payne was a member of an old established Buffalo family. Her father, Thomas W. Payne was a native of Richmond, Virginia and worked as an office clerk according to the 1920 census. Her mother Grace L. Payne was born in New York State. Mrs. Payne was identified as a matron working in a school at the time of the census. Her parents, Nimrod and Elizabeth Thompson settled in Buffalo circa 1850 or earlier.

Miss Payne had two siblings, Madeline Payne Middleton and Dr. Earle Clifford Payne, DDS. According to the 1920 census, Ms. Payne's, who lived with her parents on Laurel Street, marital status was listed as divorced. However, no documentation of the marriage has been found at this time.

Clara was born circa February 1882. She was an active member of Buffalo's small African American community and was very involved with a local civic group that organized, among other activities, a hospitality event for African Americans visiting the 1901 Pan American Exposition. Ms. Payne was listed as one of the members of the Progressive Club's host committee. A local newspaper account of the club's party commended the group for an elaborate and festive gathering that was attended by many visitors to the Exposition.
In 1911, Clara Payne was named the co-head worker along with Susan Evans of the Social Center for Negroes. This new center primarily provided industrial programs, e.g. sewing and cooking classes as well as recreational programs and a Boy Scout troop. Educational and cultural programs were offered to adults. The Center was located on Pine Street between North and South Division Streets.

During World War I, Miss Payne served as a volunteer nurse at the Marine Hospital in Buffalo, during the influenza epidemic of 1918 and 1920. A brief newspaper account lauded her for volunteering for two weeks at the hospital. Ms. Payne was employed in several jobs, including positions as a domestic and as a caterer. However, by 1921 the local African American paper, The Buffalo American reported that she'd been hired for a summer position as a "Home visitor". The paper noted that it was a paid position. Several months later, in October 1921 the paper reported she'd been hired, at $100 a month salary, for the county welfare department. She was reported to have been the first African American to work in Erie County's social welfare department as a Social Worker.

In the 1930 City Directory, she is listed as a Visitor with the Department of Social Services. By 1940 her position is described as Investigator. She was described as a dedicated worker who retired from the Welfare Department following a 32-year career. An article in the June 21, 1952 edition of the Buffalo News reported that a "farewell party" was given for Ms. Payne by her colleagues at the Bureau of Public Welfare. She was given many gifts including monetary. Ms. Payne planned to take a three-month vacation in Europe according to the article.

Her involvement in community organizations was unprecedented. She was a founding member of the Board of Directors of the Buffalo Urban League and remained involved with that organization from 1927 until her death in 1958. A member of the Board of the Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA), Ms. Payne helped to start the first integrated YWCA in the Buffalo area. In 1926 she was elected to the Y's Board of Directors and served as a member of the Y's Business Girls' Council and the Inter-racial Committee.

In addition to the Board, she served on numerous subcommittees and work groups of the organization at a time when African American women were rarely members of white women's organizations.
Ms. Payne's interest in and devotion to the welfare of young women was also expressed through her volunteer work as a Girl Scout Troop leader. Ms. Payne was also a long-time member and officer in the Buffalo chapter of the NAACP.

She was a frequent speaker for church and social groups, speaking on the topic of African American progress. One such speaking engagement on March 18, 1931 was entitled, "Work Among the Negroes in Buffalo".

Ms. Payne was a member of St. Philip's Episcopal Church where she founded the St. Mary's Guild, the Women's Day worship services and the church's annual Coronation Ball. She also served as a member of the Altar Guild. She headed major fundraisers for the church and was recognized by the Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Western New York. An 1898 newspaper article on the activities of the Ladies Auxiliary of St. Philip's Church names Ms. Payne as a member involved in the fundraising projects of the church. In October 1942, she was the speaker at St. Philip's Episcopal Church's 21st anniversary at its Goodell location. Her grandparents were among the founding families of the church.

Upon learning of her death, on September 5, 1958, the Buffalo Urban League Board passed a resolution that concluded: "Among her many virtues there were integrity, tact, gentleness, a delightful sense of humor, and patience. One can hardly do justice to a characterization of Miss Payne unless she is described as a saint who temporarily sojourned on earth."

IN MEMORIAM: Clara L. Payne
Buffalo Urban League, Inc.
Buffalo, NY, September 17, 1958

The death of Miss Clara L. Payne is a sad event, which we regretfully record. It is not a task to relish. Formal Resolutions by our Buffalo Urban League Directors seem out of keeping for an individual like Miss Payne. Her death on September 5, 1958 leaves a vacancy in our midst which, without exaggeration, will be impossible to fill.

Miss Payne has been a member of the Board of Directors of the Buffalo Urban League ever since it was organized in 1927.

Miss Payne, a former board member of the YWCA helped start the first integrated YWCA in Buffalo. She was a past officer of the NAACP here.
During World War I she served as a volunteer nurse at the Marine Hospital here during the influenza epidemic of 1917 and 1918.

At St. Philip's she founded St. Mary's Guild, started Women's Day worship services on Passion Sunday, helped start the annual Coronation Ball, served on the Altar Guild and formerly led a Girl Scout Troop. Until her last illness, she taught in the weekday religious school at St. Paul's Episcopal Cathedral.

For 32 years, Miss Payne was a social worker in the Welfare Department. In the delicate task of visiting families who were new in this community, many of them handicapped, bewildered or both, she was without a peer. Among her many virtues there were integrity, tact, gentleness, a delightful sense of humor, and patience. One can hardly do justice to a characterization of Miss Payne unless she is described as a saint who temporarily sojourned on earth.

We, the Board of Directors of the Buffalo Urban League, shall miss her advice and congeniality. We shall miss her bubbling merriment so often manifested during informative conversations at our luncheons prior to the introduction of business.
Words are quite inadequate to express the real sense of loss that we feel through the death of Miss Payne. May her soul be at peace!

Be it unanimously resolved: At a meeting of the Directors of the Buffalo Urban League, Inc. held on September 17, 1958, that the foregoing resolution be adopted, spread upon the minutes of this meeting, and a copy be forwarded to the family of Miss Clara L. Payne.

Robert W. McNulty
Chairman, Committee on Resolutions