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Morton, Lorraine H., 1918-2018



  • Existence: 1918 - 2018


Lorraine H. Morton was born Constance Lorraine Hairston on December 8, 1918 in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. She was the youngest child of Keziah Hairston, a schoolteacher, and William Patrick Hairston, a prosperous businessman who helped found the Winston Mutual Life Insurance Company (now the Golden Gate Insurance Company). Educated in the Winston-Salem public schools, Hairston received a Bachelor of Science in Education in 1938 from Winston-Salem Teacher’s College (now Winston-Salem State University). She then pursued graduate work and received her Master’s in Curriculum (Education) from Northwestern University in 1942. Northwestern honored her in 2008 by bestowing her with a Doctorate of Law.

While at Northwestern, Hairston met her husband Dr. James Thomas Morton (1911-1974), a Northwestern alumnus of the class of 1942. They married on December 28, 1941. Born in Greenwood, South Carolina and raised in Evanston, Illinois, Dr. Morton was also an alumnus of the University of Illinois, where he majored in psychology. He taught at Bennett College in Greensboro, North Carolina from 1936-1940 and was named Dean in 1942. Both Mr. and Mrs. Morton worked for a time in Tuskegee, Alabama. She taught at the Tuskegee Institute Laboratory School. After earning a Masters and Doctorate in psychology at Northwestern, Dr. Morton was drafted into the United States Army for service in World War II and became the first African-American chief psychologist for the Veteran’s Administration. He later was served at Veterans Hospitals in Tuskegee, Alabama and Downey, Illinois.

Upon returning to Evanston with her husband in 1953, Lorraine Morton became a teacher for the District 65 school system. Her husband started practice as a clinical psychologist, returned to work for the federal government, and worked at Evanston Hospital. He died on March 8, 1974. Mrs. Morton was the first African-American schoolteacher in the District 65 system that taught outside Evanston’s segregated Foster School and was also among the first group of teachers to be given merit pay in District 65. Mrs. Morton taught at Foster Elementary School from 1953-1956, Nichols Middle School from 1957-1966, and Chute Middle School from 1966-1977, teaching language arts and social studies.

In 1977, Morton was appointed as principal of Evanston’s Haven Middle School and maintained that position until she retired in 1989. Haven Middle School, which had experienced problems with vandalism, student misbehavior, and poor academic performance dramatically improved under her administration, an accomplishment for which Morton received high praise from many Evanstonians. She was elected President of the Junior High School Association of Illinois due to her exemplary leadership qualities. She also holds life membership in the Illinois Congress of Parents and Teachers. During her almost forty-year tenure as a teacher and a principal, Morton was noted for engaging in extensive community service, implementing team teaching, and desegregating the schools of Evanston and New Albany, Mississippi.

Morton continued her long career of service and public engagement when she accepted Mayor Jay Lythe’s reference to become alderman of the Fifth Ward of Evanston, a City Council position she held from 1982-1991. While Fifth Ward Alderman, she served on the Housing and Community Development, Police Services, Planning and Development, Human Services, and Rules Committees, as well as on the Unified Budget Panel. Additionally, she also served on special committees on fair housing, libraries, and gangs, and she was Evanston’s Legion Commissioner.

In 1993, Lorraine Morton ran for mayor of Evanston with the campaign slogan “Morton for Mayor.” Campaign materials featured images of trains and lists of people who were “on board” with her campaign. After a run-off election against Ann Rainey, alderman of Evanston’s Eighth Ward, Morton was elected Evanston’s first African-American and first Democratic mayor. She would eventually become Evanston’s longest-serving mayor as well, holding that office for sixteen years (1993-2009). Among the many accomplishments that characterize her lengthy mayoral tenure, Morton oversaw and directed a large-scale renovation and revitalization of Evanston’s downtown by modernizing public services, ameliorating the tax code, and attracting more businesses and buildings. Mayor Morton was known also for her great accessibility and for her open-door policy for her constituents.

As mayor, she represented Evanston on municipal, regional, and national levels. She was involved in organizations ranging from the Evanston Historical Society to the U.S. Conference of Mayors. She was Deacon at the Second Baptist Church in Evanston, a State of Illinois delegate to the White House Conference on Libraries and Informational Services in 1991, and on the Cook County Advisory Board with the Department of Children and Family Services. Among the many groups and organization with which she was involved are the League of Women Voters, Rotary International, Kiwanis International, the NAACP, the National Council of Negro Women, the Links, Inc., the National Association of University Women, the Southern Poverty Law Center, and the sorority Alpha Kappa Alpha. Underscoring the extent of her community engagement, the Evanston/Northshore chapter of the NAACP presented Mayor Morton with its prestigious Community Service Award in 1986.

Locally, she was a member of the Northwestern University Women’s Board, the Evanston Coalition of Black Women, the Family Counseling Service of Evanston and Skokie, Senior Action Services, Over the Rainbow, and Leadership Evanston. Her involvement with these organization extended beyond just nominal membership, as evidenced by the numerous awards and honors she received from them over her lifetime. Mayor Morton was declared the 1986 Woman of the Year by the Evanston YWCA and again by the Service Guild of Ebenezer A.M.E. Church. She received an Award for Outstanding Volunteer Contributions from Illinois Governor James R. Thompson, a Saint Francis Hospital Community Service Award, and the 1989 Arts and Youth Award from the Evanston Arts Council for her commitment to service in Evanston.

Both her alma maters have recognized Mayor Morton as an exceptional role model and alumna. Winston-Salem State University created the Lorraine Hairston Morton Endowed Scholarship in 2010 for students majoring in education who are committed to community service. Northwestern University, too, offers a scholarship in Mayor Morton’s name – the Lorraine H. Morton Scholarship for the Master of Science in Education Program in the School of Education and Social Policy. Further, Northwestern presented her with an Alumni Merit Award in 1996 before bestowing the honorary doctorate in 2008. She also received an honorary doctorate for public service from Kendall College of Chicago. Upon Mayor Morton’s retirement in 2009, the Evanston City Council renamed the civic center the Lorraine H. Morton Civic Center in recognition of her service to the city. A portrait of Morton now hangs in the entrance of the center. The portrait was commissioned by the Evanston City Council and painted by noted portrait artist Richard Halstead.

Morton had one daughter, Elizabeth Morton Brasher, and two granddaughters, Elizabeth Keziah and Constance Moriah Brasher.

Lorraine Morton died on Saturday, September 8, 2018.

Found in 1 Collection or Record:

Lorraine H. Morton (1918-2018) Papers

Identifier: 31/6/140
Abstract After completing graduate studies at Northwestern University, Lorraine Hairston Morton was a teacher and principal in Evanston’s District #65. She served as the mayor of Evanston, Illinois from 1993 to 2009. Her Papers, spanning 1942-2018, include six boxes of documents and 291 megabytes of born-digital files, including speeches, correspondence, event programs, photographs, newspaper clippings, periodicals, and campaign information detailing her leadership. 15 boxes contain awards given to...
Dates: 1942-2014