NEW YORK - Thomas Morgan III, the first openly gay president of the National Association of Black Journalists and a longtime newsman at the

New York Times

, has died. He was 56.

The Brooklyn resident died early Monday morning, possibly of a heart attack, while visiting the family of his partner, Thomas Ciano, in Southampton, Mass., Ciano said yesterday.

Morgan was NABJ's president from 1989 to 1991. Even though he won election handily, it was somewhat heated, according to a 2004 profile on the NABJ's Web site.

"It was painful," Morgan recalled. "I struggled with how to represent NABJ without embarrassing the organization but while also being true to myself. I was elected as a black journalist, not a gay one."

After graduating from the University of Missouri and completing his service with the U.S. Air Force in 1975, Morgan worked at the Miami Herald and the Washington Post.

At the Times, he rose to assistant metro editor and received a Nieman Fellowship in 1989.

He retired from the newspaper in 1994. *