Documentary Film Celebrates Lorraine Morton’s Life

Documentary Film Celebrates Lorraine Morton’s Life

Lorraine MortonLorraine Morton

The storied life of Lorraine Hairston Morton (MS42) -- Evanston’s first African-American mayor and longtime Evanston public school educator -- is captured in the new documentary Lorraine H. Morton: A Life Worthwhile by Shorefront Films.

Morton, 99, who attended the movie’s premiere at Northwestern University’s Segal Visitor’s Center, passed away on Sept. 8, 2018, exactly three months shy of her 100th birthday. 

Using interviews with Morton and archival images, the documentary traces her life’s journey from Winston Salem, N.C. to Evanston. The youngest of 10 children, Morton gracefully navigated the societal constructs of Jim Crow, desegregation, and governmental relationships.

“I’m very appreciative of what you’ve done,” Morton told Dino Robinson, founder of the Shorefront Legacy Center, which commissioned the project. “I only did what my mother and father told me. … As he was dying my father said, ‘Only a life of service is a life worthwhile.’”

An irrepressible optimist, Morton often says that things simply “happened” to her, and points out the accomplishments of others — black and white — who, with her, fought for open housing, desegregation, and a better Evanston.

Lorraine MortonHired in 1953 to teach in Evanston/Skokie District 65’s then all-black Foster Elementary School, Morton broke the color barrier in 1957 as the first African American to teach in a white-majority Evanston school (Nichols Middle School).

In a string of firsts, Morton also was the first black president of the Junior High School Association of Illinois. She became Evanston’s first Democratic mayor in more than 100 years, and she remains the city’s longest-serving chief.

In 2014, Morton donated her papers to Northwestern, the Evanston History Center and Shorefront, a trove of letters, newspaper clippings, speech texts and campaign materials documenting her years of service in Evanston.

She fondly recalled living with five black female students in a boarding house on Lake Street, during 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 in 2014. “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.”

Lorraine H. Morton: A Life Worthwhile will be screened at 11:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. Monday, July 30 in the Parasol Room at the Lorraine H. Morton Civic Center, 2100 Ridge Ave., Evanston. It will also be shown at 3 p.m. on Aug. 25 at the Evanston Public Library, 1703 Orrington Ave. Both are free and open to the public.

The Shorefront Legacy Center collects, preserves and educates people about Black history on Chicago’s suburban North Shore. The film was produced by Shorefront's Robinson and board member Steve Jordan of PlasterDog Films, part of Evanston Photographic Studios. Shorefront's entire board of directors has been involved in the project over the last four years.

By Julie Deardorff/Northwestern News
Last Modified: 9/10/18