When I met Lorraine Morton at Le Peep in Evanston, I found the nonagenarian former Evanston mayor, teacher and principal sitting in the waiting area, chatting and laughing with one of her former students.
“I always remember my children,” Morton says.
Keeping other people at the forefront of her mind is natural for Morton. She was Evanston’s first African-American mayor and its longest serving one—the culmination of a long, decorated life of service. Her dedication to giving back is the source of both her success and longevity.
“Some people do whatever anybody tells you, others have strong convictions,” she says. And her strongest conviction is that it’s better to give than to receive.
As a teacher at Nichols Middle School and later principal at Haven Middle School—where she broke the race barrier in the 50s by becoming Evanston’s first black teacher in a predominantly white school—her sermon to her students was “do something for somebody.” What she did for them included her notorious tap dancing routines in a top hat and tails.
So when one of her students came to her in 1993 and implored her to run for mayor—”You know, you were my teacher,” she remembers him saying, bringing tears to her eyes at the time—it moved her to act.
And a civic luminary was born.
“I always felt I was pleasing somebody in that job,” she says of being mayor for 16 years, during which the door to her office was always open. “I wanted the children and the community to not feel city government was so far away.”
When it comes to her accomplishments, such as contributing to the civil rights movement and enabling Evanston’s strong economic growth, Morton doesn’t like taking credit.
“You don’t accomplish anything by yourself,” she says. “I’m proud of Evanston. It made the growth due to the insight of the city council. I don’t attribute that to me, that would be egotistical.”
In her mind, she doesn’t have room for a running list of her achievements—only the names of her beloved students.