Evanston commemorates the loss of visionary mayor Lorraine Morton

Morton at Evanston City Council meeting in 2009.

Photo credit: The Chicago Tribune

Morton at Evanston City Council meeting in 2009.

Sarah Frieman, Executive Editor

Last Saturday, services were held for Evanston’s first black and first democratic mayor Lorraine Morton who died Sept. 8, exactly three months before her 100th birthday. Pioneer Press reported that nearly 750 mourners convened for the funeral service at the Alice Millar Chapel on the Northwestern University campus.

“Mayor Morton loved bringing people together,” current mayor Steve Hagerty told Chicago Tribune on Saturday. “I know she is happy she brought Evanston together one last time.”

Morton was born in the then still segregated Winston-Salem, North Carolina on Dec. 8, 1918. She first moved to Evanston to pursue her masters in education at Northwestern University in 1942. Earlier in her career, Morton served as a teacher for D65 from 1957- 1977, and a principal from 1977- 1989. Morton was Evanston’s longest-serving mayor from 1993 to 2009, according to the City of Evanston’s website.

Toly Walker, English teacher, recalled when Morton lived in the same neighborhood as her grandparents. “[Morton] was always supportive and real,” Walker said. “She was at the school picnics, she went to church in the community, she came to events at the community center. She was always available.”

Junior Peter Braithwaite recollected his memories of Morton who continued to be an active community figure, years past her retirement. “From what I remember, every interaction I had with her she always had a vibrant smile on her face,” Braithwaite said. “She just seemed happy to be alive everyday and it gave her an amazing aura.”

Morton started teaching in Evanston at Foster Elementary School, which was an all-black school at the time. In 1957, she became the first black teacher at the majority white Nichols Middle School. Morton then served as an alderman for the fifth ward from 1982 to 1991.

“Over the course of her public service, she touched the lives of generations of young students in the classroom, as well as generations of residents from both the fifth ward and the city as a whole,” psychology teacher David Allen said.

A documentary, Lorraine H. Morton: A Life Worthwhile, produced by local Shorefront Legacy Center, was screened in August at the Evanston Civic Center and Evanston Public Library. Morton, along with her daughter, viewed the film that spotlights her barrier-breaking work in public service. Northwestern Now reported that she participated in the national desegregation effort and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.