On this day in 1977, Ernest Nathan Morial was elected the first African American mayor of New Orleans, Louisiana.
Born on October 9, 1929, Morial grew up in the seventh ward of New Orleans. He attended Holy Redeemer Elementary School and graduated from Xavier University of Louisiana in 1951.
He then went on to attend the Louisiana State University, becoming the first African American to receive a law degree after his graduation in 1954. While working as a lawyer, he fought to dismantle segregation, participating in several courtroom battles.
In 1967, when he was elected to represent an Uptown neighborhood of New Orleans, he became the first black member of the Louisiana State Legislature since the Reconstruction era. When he ran for a position on New Orleans’ City Council in 1969, he lost by a tight margin.
Defeating City Councilman Joseph V. DiRosa in the election of 1977, Morial became the city’s first black mayor. He won with 20 percent of the white vote and 95 percent of the black vote.
While often accused of being too arrogant and pompous, Morial’s actions as mayor did have quite a positive effect on employment. The proportion of black employees on the city’s workforce increased from 40 percent to 53 percent while he was in office.
After serving two terms, the city charter banned him from running for a third. He attempted to appeal the decision, but was denied both times.
Morial died suddenly in 1989 at the age of 60. He is buried at St. Louis Cemetery #3 in a large family tomb.
In 1992, New Orleans renamed its convention center the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center. In addition, a public school and a health center were named after him as well.