The president of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and lawyer for the University of Michigan's affirmative action policy died Thursday at the age of 65, the Wall Street Journal reported.
Payton died in Johns Hopkins Hospital from a short combat with multiple myeloma, said Gay MacDougall, his wife, according to the Washington Post.
President Obama released a statement declaring Payton "a true champion of equality," and said he was saddened at the loss of his "dear friend."
Payton was born in Los Angeles, and later joined a handful of black students at Pomona College in California, where he graduated in 1973. There he helped Pomona recruit more black students and start a black studies program. He graduated from Harvard Law School in 1977, said the New York Times.
He spent his career challenging the Voting Rights Act, the city of Chicago, and the Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District, all on cases related to discrimination and civil rights.
In 2010, the National Law Journal named Mr. Payton to its list of "The Decade's Most Influential Lawyers."