With tributes, a release of doves, songs and prayers, the family, friends and allies of Ernest “Dutch” Morial on Monday celebrated his life and a new resting place for the trailblazing former mayor 25 years after his death.
In a multidenominational service that included Christian, Jewish and Islamic blessings, the Morials consecrated what will become a new family tomb.
The former mayor’s body was moved from his family’s traditional tomb in St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 near the French Quarter and reinterred in a new tomb in St. Louis Cemetery No. 3 on Esplanade Avenue earlier this month.
The family had decided on the move so that it will be able to accommodate future generations in the same tomb, former Mayor Marc Morial — Dutch Morial’s son — said as he gestured to a row filled with the family’s youngest generation. The event also was important to give that younger generation a chance to learn about their heritage, he said.
“The next generation didn’t know my father, and it was important for them and important to give the community a chance to reflect on his accomplishments,” Marc Morial said after the ceremony.
Discussion of those accomplishments served as the central focus of the event.
“As we know, his name is in many places in this city, but more importantly, his name and his life and his goodness are enshrined in our hearts,” Archbishop Gregory Aymond said.
Morial was elected as New Orleans’ first black mayor in 1978 and served two terms in office.
He died of a heart attack on Christmas Eve 1989, less than two weeks after he announced he would not seek another term.
Monday’s memorial, which was centered around a biography of Morial read by his grandchildren, focused on a long list of accomplishments that preceded his mayoral terms.
Through his life, Morial broke a long list of barriers, becoming the first black graduate of LSU’s law school, the first black assistant district attorney in New Orleans, the first black state lawmaker in Louisiana since Reconstruction, the city’s first black Juvenile Court judge and the first black judge on the state 4th Circuit Court of Appeal.
Prior to becoming a judge and then mayor, he worked with civil rights lawyer A.P. Tureaud to file a series of suits that challenged segregation in a wide swath of life in New Orleans including its schools, buses, taxes and public facilities.
Marc Morial followed in his father’s footsteps, serving as New Orleans’ mayor from 1994 to 2002.
“I know as (Dutch Morial) looks down now, he’ll say we’ve come a long way but have a long way to go,” Xavier University President Norman Francis said.