On Oct. 9, 1929, Ernest Nathan “Dutch” Morial was born in New Orleans.

Morial, who grew up in the 7th Ward to Roman Catholic Creole parents, was New Orleans’ first African American mayor.  He attended McDonogh 35 Senior High School and later graduated from Xavier University in 1951 with a degree in business administration. In 1954, Morial became the first African American to graduate from Louisiana State University School of Law.

During the Civil Rights Movement, Morial worked closely with civil rights leader and attorney A.P. Tureaud, Sr., whose son, A.P. Tureaud Jr., was the first Black undergraduate to enroll at LSU. Morial joined the New Orleans NAACP chapter, serving as president from 1962 to 1965. The young civil rights activist participated in protests including the Dryades Street Boycott, which targeted businesses who refused to hire African American employees. As an attorney for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and Educational Fund, Morial worked to desegregate public schools, parks and public transportation in New Orleans. 

His life was one of many firsts.

In 1965, Morial was appointed assistant U.S. attorney in Louisiana, becoming the first Black person to hold the office in Louisiana. Two years later, Morial was elected to the Louisiana Legislature, making history as the first Black person elected to the state legislature since Reconstruction. In 1970, Morial made history as the first Black juvenile court judge in Louisiana and in 1974, he became the first Black man to serve on Louisiana’s Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. 

In 1977, Morial was elected the first Black mayor of New Orleans, earning 95 percent of the Black vote. He would serve two terms. He was known for increasing tourism in the city as well as expanding the number of Black city service workers and the percentage of Black officers on the police force. During his second term as mayor, the Office of Minority Business Development was created and the New Orleans convention center was built, opening in 1985. It was renamed in his honor in 1992

But his mayoral career also had its challenges. Morial canceled Mardi Gras in 1979 amid a police strike.  He also had to deal with the financial collapse of the poorly attended 1984 World’s Fair in New Orleans.

The city charter did not allow Morial to run for a third term. He went on to work for the Democratic National Committee as a senior advisor for 1988 presidential candidate Michael Dukakis. 

Morial died in New Orleans on December 24, 1989 at the age of 60, after complications from an asthma attack. He was married to Sybil Haydel Morial and they had five children: Marc, Jacques, Julie, Cheri and Monique. Marc Morial would also serve two terms as mayor of New Orleans, from 1994-2002. 

In addition to the New Orleans convention center, there’s also an elementary school named after Morial and the Asthma, Allergy & Respiratory Disease Center at the LSU School of Medicine bears his name.

Correction: The initial post of this article reported that Ernest Morial died in New York. He died in New Orleans. Also, A.P. Tureaud Sr.’s son, A.P. Tureaud Jr., was the first Black undergraduate to enroll at LSU. The article has been updated to reflect the corrections.

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Shannon Stecker is a creative writer, a marketing director, and a lover of stories. She has spent the past 15 years of her career in a creative space – as a print and broadcast journalist, a freelance...