In honor of Black History Month, the James B. Moran Center for Youth Advocacy would like to focus on two extremely influential Black leaders from Evanston. As an organization focused on keeping youth in school and out of prison through integrated legal and social work services, we chose two Black leaders from these fields. Namely, Dr. James T. Morton, Jr. and Norman Amaker who practiced in the fields of clinical psychology and civil rights law respectively, both of whom have a connection to Evanston and Chicago.
The Moran Center would like to thank Dino Robinson, founder of Shorefront Legacy Center, for his help with these profiles. If you would like to learn more about the history of Black residents on the North Shore, we highly recommend visiting Shorefront. Not only is the space warm and inviting, but it houses more than 250 linear feet of archival material on the local Black community. Shorefront was officially founded in 2002 as Mr. Robinson’s passion project, which he began in 1995. Shorefront has grown so much since then in its goal to create a repository, non-circulating library detailing the history of the Black community on the North Shore. In honor of Black History Month, Shorefront hosted a lecture series whose attendees included, the widow of Norman Amaker, Mattie Amaker.
Although, Dr. James Thomas Morton, Jr. was born in Greenwood, South Carolina he was raised right here in Evanston. While attending high school in Evanston, Morton volunteered his time teaching classes on Black History to members of the Evanston community and local church groups. Morton went on to receive his Bachelor of Arts Degree (B.A.) in psychology from the University of Illinois at Champaign in 1934. From there, he returned to Evanston to attend Northwestern University in order to pursue his Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in clinical psychology. During this time, Dr. Morton participated in social activism though his fraternity Alpha Phi Alpha’s graduate chapter at Northwestern. It was also while attending Northwestern that Morton met his future wife, Lorraine Morton, who was attending the university to pursue her master’s in education. Not long after meeting, the pair married. The Mortons then moved to North Carolina where Morton taught at Bennett College in Greensboro, North Carolina from 1936 to 1940, prior to him earning his Ph.D. During that same time, Dr. Morton was drafted into the United States Army as a private.
Following his army service, Dr. Morton finished his Ph.D. at Northwestern in 1942. That same year, Dr. Morton was named Dean of Bennett College where he previously taught. The Mortons moved to Tuskegee, Alabama where Mrs. Morton taught at the Tuskegee Institute Laboratory School and Dr. Morton worked as the chief psychologist for the Tuskegee Veterans’ Hospital. Dr. Morton was the first Black American chief psychologist for the Veteran’s Administration. Dr. Morton’s research included an unpublished study of Black psychologists, which he used to recruit more Black scholars into psychology. As a pioneer for Black professionals in the field of clinical psychology, Dr. Morton was a staunch advocate for equal education and employment opportunities for minorities. Following his appointment in Tuskegee, Dr. Morton went into private practice where he continued to work with the Veteran’s Administration. In 1948, Dr. Morton was named one of the first Designated Diplomate in Clinical Psychology by the American Psychology Association. The Mortons moved back to Evanston in 1953, after Dr. Morton received a job as a clinical psychologist at Evanston Hospital, now called the NorthShore University Health System’s Evanston Hospital. Dr. Morton died in 1974, leaving behind his wife, Lorraine Morton, and their one daughter and now two grandchildren.
Norman Amaker was born in New York City on January 15, 1935 to Gladys and Casey Amaker. His parents were social activists in Harlem, which ultimately inspired Amaker to take a leading role within the American Civil Rights movement. Amaker left New York City in 1952 to pursue his Bachelor’s degree from Amherst College. Amaker graduated from Amherst cum laude in 1956 as the only Black graduate. After earning his Bachelor’s, Amaker returned to New York City to attend law school at Columbia University. Again, Amaker was the only Black graduate in his class. When Amaker graduated from Columbia in 1959 the Civil Rights Movement was at its height. According to the Loyola University Chicago Law Journal, a year after graduating Amaker was encouraged to accept a position by, Thurgood Marshall, at the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (“NAACP”) Legal Defense and Education Fund to serve as one of the attorneys for the Civil Rights Movement in Alabama. As stated by the Loyola University Chicago Law Journal, “during this period, Professor Amaker represented his good friend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and thousands of others in the civil rights protest demonstrations that were instrumental in reshaping America’s social and legal landscape.” Amaker even had a hand in getting Dr. King’s famous, “Letter From a Birmingham Jail,” published. According to the Chicago Tribune, Amaker took the draft from Dr. King while he was in jail and delivered it to a printer for distribution. Amaker worked with the NAACP for the remainder of the 1960’s in a variety of legal cases related to racial discrimination involving education, employment, housing, and more.
In 1971, Amaker left the NAACP to become the Executive Director of the Neighborhood Legal Service Program in Washington, D.C. The mission of the organization resonated greatly with Amaker’s social activism as the organization provided, “free legal information, advice and representation to low-income District of Colombia residents on civil legal matters.” Amaker stayed in this position for two years before leaving to serve as general counsel for the National Committee Against Discrimination in Housing.
In the 1970s, Amaker started his scholarly career by accepting teaching positions at the University of Maryland School of Law, Rutgers Law School, and finally at the Loyola University Chicago School of Law where he would remain until his death. As with law school, Amaker was the only African American tenured faculty member at Loyola. This pushed Amaker to work on diversifying law school faculties given his belief, “that diverse law school faculties were more likely to be rich sources of the sorts of creative ideas that would help American law continue its evolution toward a more just and open society.” This passion led Amaker to co-found the Midwestern People of Color Legal Scholarship Conference (“MWPOC”) with the primary goal of creating a “parallel institution within the legal academy,” where professors of color could come together to present and critique each other’s scholarly work. The idea was that this conference could provide professors of color space to receive feedback and not feel as isolated within the field as they may have felt at their home institutions. It aimed to help professors of color receive tenured university positions which in turn led to greater diversity within law school faculties. The first meeting of the MWPOC was at Loyola University Chicago School of Law in February 1990. The concept soon spread across the country and by 1999 there were six regional conferences that met all together in Chicago at The John Marshall Law School for the first National People of Color Legal Scholarship Conference (“NPOC”). These conferences still take place today, and in March 2019 the NPOC will meet for the fourth time in Washington, D.C at American University Washington College of Law where more than 500 law professors and scholars plan to attend according to the conference’s website.
The length of Professor Amaker’s legacy is long – from representing demonstrators arrested during Martin Luther King, Jr. ’s voter registration drive in Selma, Alabama to demanding greater diversity within America’s law schools. Mr. Amaker died in 2000, leaving behind his wife Mattie and three children, several of whom still live and work in Evanston and Chicago.
We lift up Dr. Morton and Professor Amaker as examples of local leaders, who made incredible national contributions to the mental health and legal sectors. With roots deeply planted in Evanston, Dr. Morton and Professor Amaker demanded justice and changed systems. We honor their memory.