From the beginning of the Evanston Women’s History Project, there was no question that Lorraine Morton was a fixture in the story of Evanston women. Not only was she the first African-American elected Mayor of Evanston, and only the second woman, she was a pioneer in so many ways – as an educator, politician and community ambassador.
Lorraine Morton came to Evanston in 1941 to study for her Master’s Degree in Education at Northwestern University. She taught in Evanston schools for almost 40 years, breaking down racial barriers by being the first African-American teacher at an all-white school. She ended her educational career as principal of Haven Middle School. She was elected alderman for the fifth ward in 1982 and served until 1993, when she was tapped to run for mayor. Morton retired in 2008, becoming the longest-serving mayor in Evanston history.
When the EWHP started in 2007, Morton was still Mayor and she was involved in our early imagining and planning of the project. In the years following, she stayed in touch and involved as she could, and always had a big smile for me and welcome comments to make about the long history of Evanston women, which she rightfully embraced as her own lineage. Over the years, as I have worked on the project and used the logo which is at the top of this page, I would note that she was the only one of the women shown who was still living. I loved seeing her there, representing Evanston women today.
Morton died at the age of 99 this past week. Evanston lost its biggest fan and supporter – and a leader who truly understood that working with people, encouraging their better impulses, and making change through compromise and understanding, was how to make things work. She built a community by building us all up too. She truly embraced and embodied the idea of “lifting as we climb.”
We will miss her leadership and her smile.
For more about her life, be sure to catch the new documentary produced by Shorefront Legacy Center – Lorraine Hairston Morton: A Life Worthwhile (you can see a trailer for the film here). Upcoming showings of the film will be posted on the Shorefront website or facebook page.
“All the wonderful things that happen in Evanston, happen by vote. We did it, not I did it.” Lorraine Morton (From: Nicole Walker “Women mayors.” Ebony, 30 Mar, 2009).
By Lori Osborne, EWHP Director