Marie Foster

Lived:October 24, 1917—September 6, 2003 (aged 85)

Marie Foster was a civil rights activist who helped African Americans in Selma, Alabama, register to vote. She was also a founding member of the Dallas County Voters League and a local organizer of the 1965 marches from Selma to Montgomery.

Foster was born on October 24, 1917, near Alberta, Alabama. Her mother moved Foster and her siblings to Selma to get an education. Dropping out before completing high school, Foster married and raised three children after the death of her husband. She eventually completed high school, attended junior college, and became a dental hygienist in her brother's practice.

Foster became involved in the Civil Rights Movement after trying to register to vote eight times before finally succeeding. From 1963 to 1965, she taught classes on how to pass the tests used to prevent African Americans from registering. She became a local contact for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, and was a founding member of the Dallas County Voters League.

In July of 1964, a Dallas County Circuit Court judge issued an order that prohibited African Americans from meeting in groups of three or more to discuss civil rights, and Foster was understood to be the target of that order because of the number of people who had been attending meetings she organized. In December 1964, Foster and the Dallas County Voters League invited the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. to Selma in direct violation of the order. That invitation led to the planning of a march from Selma to Montgomery on March 7, 1965, that became known at the Bloody Sunday march when the marchers were met with violence by law enforcement at the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma. Foster was at the front of one of the lines and was clubbed in the knees by a state trooper. Two days later, Foster and others began another march that was also stopped by police, but without violence. The march from Selma to Montgomery finally took place from March 21 to March 25, and Foster was one of only two women to complete it.

After passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1965, Foster continued her work and was eventually appointed to the Dallas County Board of Registrars. In 1984, she worked on the presidential campaign of the Rev. Jesse Jackson.

Foster died on September 6, 2003, in Selma.