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Great social change is reflected in the papers former Evanston Mayor Lorraine Morton recently donated to Northwestern. Morton earned a master's degree at Northwestern in 1942. Photo by Charles Osgood


One might call Lorraine Hairston Morton — Evanston’s first African-American mayor and a longtime Evanston public school educator — a reluctant icon. Born 95 years ago in the still very segregated South, in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, Morton has been a witness to and participant in enormous social change since making Evanston her permanent home in 1953.


Some of that change is reflected in papers that she recently donated to Northwestern, where Morton earned a master’s degree in education in 1942. Morton — who enrolled at Northwestern as Constance Lorraine Hairston — fondly recalls living with five black female students in a boarding house on Lake Street owned by one Mrs. Griffith. It was at a time when African-American students could not live on campus.


Evanston, Northwestern, and the world have changed, insists Morton, who says she chooses “not to wallow in the injustices and negatives of the past” but to stay focused on improving the present. She adds that she came to Evanston for an education, and that Northwestern provided her with a good one.


“I never had a bad experience at the University,” Morton said. “I always remembered why I was here. A university is more than just courses. It widens your mind. Northwestern opened another horizon for me. It opened doors.”


And, she adds with a smile, Northwestern is also where she met James T. Morton Jr., a bright young man completing his doctorate in psychology who soon became her husband. An African-American pioneer in clinical psychology, James Morton died in 1974.


Elizabeth K. Brasher says her grandmother’s motto is “never let anyone steal your joy!” And a single meeting with the ever-youthful former mayor is proof that she takes her own advice to heart. The Lorraine Morton Collection at Northwestern reflects the lifetime Morton spent creating partnerships, building bridges, and solving problems with respect and without rancor.


“The collection of letters, newspaper clippings, speech texts, and campaign materials is particularly strong in documenting Mayor Morton’s years of service in Evanston,” says Kevin Leonard, director of University Archives, where the collection resides. “Among the key items are her speeches, particularly as they deal with issues of diversity and inclusion.”


“I can’t think of a better place for my papers to be than Northwestern,” says Morton, who to this day is an unabashed Northwestern supporter and, as mayor from 1993 to 2009, worked hard to improve town-gown relations and succeeded in doing so.


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