Hundreds celebrate Lorraine Morton, who broke down racial barriers, offered wisdom to many


Alan Perez/Daily Senior Staffer

A funeral procession for Constance Lorraine Hairston Morton outside Alice Millar Chapel on Saturday. Hundreds turned out to honor the legacy of a woman who built strong relationships and broke down racial barriers.

Alan Perez, Campus Editor

Hundreds gathered in Alice Millar Chapel Saturday to remember the life of Constance Lorraine Hairston Morton, Evanston’s first African-American mayor, who to many was a teacher, mentor and friend.

The celebration honored a woman who many say brought joy and wisdom to the community, with scores of humor-filled stories that only brushed Morton’s journey through a purpose-driven life. Family and three former mayors remembered Morton as a relationship builder who stressed strong family ties, broke down racial barriers and fostered a tight-knit community.

If a tear was shed, few saw it. Talks of repeating Aretha Franklin’s hours-long funeral were frequent, though the Rev. Larry S. Bullock, who delivered a eulogy, said he promised Morton to abide by her request that the services be kept under 90 minutes. In the end, it ran for well over two hours.

That request was only one of many. Morton had planned almost every detail of Saturday’s services, including speakers and musical selections such as “Oh Happy Day,” family members said. The expected turnout was too great to host the services at the Second Baptist Church, where Morton was an active member and an ordained deacon. Instead, a choir from the Evanston church performed some of her favorite songs.

“Everything that you see here is something that she planned,” Elizabeth Brasher, Morton’s daughter, told the audience. “This is the ceremony that she wanted.”

Three of Evanston’s mayors, former and current, honored Morton’s public service legacy, offering memories of when they would come to her for pieces of wisdom and advice. Steve Hagerty, the current mayor, spoke about Morton’s legacy of bringing people together.

“I know she’s happy she brought together Evanston one more time,” he said.

Daily file photo by Katie Pach
Lorraine Morton.

While the services were taking place, over 2,000 new Northwestern students participated in the annual March Through The Arch to kick off Wildcat Welcome. While the event provided a stark contrast to the funeral, Hagerty said it only added to the celebration.

“I also know she’d be really happy to know that 2,000 freshmen just marched through that arch an hour before her funeral services,” Hagerty said, prompting applause from the audience.

Developing a better relationship with Northwestern was only one bridge Morton built during her life. Former Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl said she remembers calling Morton on the first day of her predecessor’s “so-called retirement” only to be told she was in a meeting — just one of example of how Morton continued to develop relationships well into her life.

Several Evanston leaders were in attendance, including U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), Cook County Commissioner Larry Suffredin and NU Provost Jonathan Holloway. Additionally, plenty of former and current Evanston residents turned out to offer memories of how Morton impacted their lives.

“I know the preamble (of the Constitution) by heart, and I still know the preamble because of Mrs. Morton,” said Tanya Proby, a former eighth-grade student of Morton’s who drove two hours from Milwaukee, Wisconsin to attend the event. “This is not goodbye, this is see you later.”

Plenty of other attendees echoed that sentiment, saying that Morton’s legacy as the first black mayor and the first non-white teacher of Evanston/Skokie School District 65 would be hard to surpass. At the end of the ceremony, the Rev. Michael C. R. Nabors offered no end to his benediction, saying the last chapter of her life could not yet be written.

“There was no end to her life and her legacy,” Rev. Barbara Morgan, pastor of Sherman United Methodist Church in Evanston, told The Daily. “It lives on. I thought that was very, very significant that there was no end for her.”

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