Getting Back to Abnormal

PBS Premiere: July 14, 2014Check the broadcast schedule »

In Context

In 1978, the city of New Orleans elected its first black mayor, Ernest Nathan Morial. Originally from the Seventh Ward, Morial was the first black graduate of the law school at Louisiana State University, as well as the first black member of the state legislature since Reconstruction, the era following the Civil War. Morial became a central figure in the civil rights movement of New Orleans, fighting for equal rights as a civil rights attorney and serving as president of the local NAACP chapter. In his 1977 mayoral election, Morial garnered 95 percent of the black vote and 20 percent of the white vote to defeat his opponent, Joseph DiRosa. Morial continued on to serve two consecutive terms.

When Morial began his first term, New Orleans was the third poorest city in the United States. He dedicated his efforts to ensuring that the poor gained access to opportunities and pushed for the city to increase employment of African Americans. As a result, from 1977 to 1985 the proportion of African-American city workers increased by 13 percent. Morial also worked to amplify tourism as a central driver of the local economy by encouraging investment in the downtown area. By the end of Morial's second term, he had relieved New Orleans of a $40 million deficit and balanced the city's budget.


» Hirsch, Arnold. "Harold and Dutch Revisited: A Comparative Look at the First Black Mayors of Chicago and New Orleans." In African-American Mayors: Race, Politics, and the American City, edited by David Colburn and Jeffrey Adler. Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 2001.

» KnowLA Encyclopedia of Louisiana. "Dutch Morial."

» The Louisiana Humanities Center. "The Mayors of New Orleans Since 1946."

» "1977: Dutch Morial Is Elected First Black Mayor of New Orleans."