Marcus A. Foster was born on March 31, 1923, in Georgia. He is a graduate of South Philadelphia High School, Cheyney State College, and the University of Pennsylvania, where he earned his degree as Doctor of Education. His thesis was titled, “Utilizing the Sellin-Wolfgang index of delinquency to determine the efficacy of a treatment pro-gram for delinquent and predelinquent boys” (1972).
Dr. Foster also authored the book “Making Schools Work: Strategies for Changing Education.”
After a 13-year teaching career in Philadelphia, Dr. Foster became the first Black principal of a high school in the city’s history. Simon Gratz High School, where he reversed the poor morale amongst students, quickly became an institution of proud students.
Dr. Foster was able to re-enroll students who had been pushed out, created engaging programs such as an Honors Society, and critical school day and evening STEM programs in nursing, biochemistry, and medicine.
His Philadelphia work caught the attention of the Oakland Unified School District (OUSD). He became the first Black superintendent of OUSD or any large district in the state of California.
In his brief tenure, Foster was well-known for his ability to engage the community, connect with students and families, and implement educational reforms that raised expectations and outcomes for all students.
Sadly, Dr. Foster’s life was tragically cut short. He was assassinated by members of the Symbionese Liberation Army on Nov. 6, 1973, as he left a Board of Education meeting. He was murdered due to the perceived belief that Dr. Foster supported a student identification card program and for police patrols in school buildings, but he opposed both.
In the wake of his murder, the city of Philadelphia bestowed numerous honors upon Dr. Foster, including renaming the athletic fields at Simon Gratz High School and the Student Union building at Cheyney State University. Likewise, so did the OUSD.
While in Oakland, Dr. Foster founded Oakland Education Institute to raise funds for Oakland schools. After his death, it was renamed the Marcus A. Foster Education Institute which awards scholarships to Oakland high school students. Dr. Foster published a book, “Making Schools Work: Strategies for Changing Education,” and is featured in “In the Crosshairs: Marcus Foster and the Troubled History of American School Reform.”
Sometimes, unfortunately, educating and advocating for Black children comes at the risk of life and limb. The COVID-19 pandemic is a reminder that educators risk their lives each day to educate students. Dr. Foster lost his life at the hands of an ill-informed militant group. Nevertheless, he fought for all students with the time he was given. We must resolve to do the same.
Marcus A. Foster, a member of our Black History Hall of Fame.
For more information on Marcus Foster, visit the following site.