Marie Foster
Marie Priscilla Martin

(1917-10-24)October 24, 1917
Wilcox County, Alabama, United States
DiedSeptember 6, 2003(2003-09-06) (aged 85)
Selma, Alabama, United States
Dental assistant
Known forBeing "the mother of the voting rights movement"

Marie Priscilla Martin Foster (October 24, 1917 – September 6, 2003) was a leader in the Civil Rights Movement in the U.S. during the 1960s and a dental assistant. She was instrumental in helping to register many African-American voters in Selma, Alabama, and was one of the primary local organizers of the Selma to Montgomery marches in 1965. She was called "the mother of the voting rights movement" and was nicknamed Mother Foster.[1]

Early life and work

Marie Martin was born in 1917 in Wilcox County, Alabama. She was a dental assistant when she became involved in the Civil Rights Movement.[1]

Civil Rights Movement

Voter registration

Foster became interested in the Civil Rights Movement in the early 1960s because she felt "the race relations were so bad in Selma".[2] She was part of the revival of the Dallas County Voters League, a group of African Americans that pushed for improvements in the system for voter registration[2][3] and belonged to its eight-member steering committee, known as the "Courageous Eight".[4]

She tried to register to vote eight times before succeeding.[5] Following her successful registration, Foster began teaching other African Americans how to pass the tests used to bar them. One person showed up to her first class, in which she taught the 70-year-old man how to write his own name.[2] Gradually, the classes drew many more people.


As the Civil Rights Movement grew, Foster became an organizer for the Dallas County area. She participated in the march on March 7, 1965, that became known as Bloody Sunday. As the march approached the Edmund Pettus Bridge, a combined state trooper and police force stopped the march, violently beating many of the participants. Foster was at the front of one of the lines along with Amelia Boynton, and was clubbed by a state trooper, leaving her with swollen knees.[6][7] Despite her injuries, two weeks later Foster participated in the march that eventually made it all the way to Montgomery, Alabama, successfully walking fifty miles over five days.[2][5] She was one of the two women to complete it.[7]

Martin Luther King, Jr. learned that Lyndon B. Johnson would sign the Voting Rights Act when he was at Foster's house.[5] He is said to have cried at the news while with Foster.[1][7]

Later life and legacy

After the Voting Rights Act was passed, Foster continued to work as a dental assistant. In 1984, Foster worked on Rev. Jesse Jackson's presidential campaign.[1] In her free time, she taught children how to read. She carried on campaigning, fighting for public housing of the poor in Selma, conduct of white bus drivers or asking for the statue of the Klan founder to be taken away from a public park.[5][7] She helped to found the National Voting Rights Museum and Institute.[8][7] She fought many mayoral elections to replace the mayor of Selma Joseph Smitherman who was in office during the Selma to Montgomery marches.[7]

She died on September 6, 2003.[5] She is buried at Serenity Memorial Gardens in Selma, Alabama.

Foster was posthumously named an honoree by the National Women's History Alliance in 2020.[1]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e "2020 Honorees". National Women's History Alliance. Retrieved January 8, 2020.
  2. ^ a b c d Tracie Ratiner, ed. (2005). Encyclopedia of World Biography. Vol. 25 (2nd ed.). Detroit: Gale. pp. 140–142.
  3. ^ "Dallas County Voters League". Civil Rights Teaching. Retrieved September 8, 2020.
  4. ^ "The Story". The Selma-Dallas County Friends of the Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail Association.
  5. ^ a b c d e Martin, Douglas (September 12, 2003). "Marie Foster, Early Fighter For Voting Rights, Dies at 85". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved September 5, 2020.
  6. ^ "Civil Rights Movement History & Timeline (Selma & the March to Montgomery)". Retrieved September 5, 2020.
  7. ^ a b c d e f "Marie Foster |". Retrieved September 5, 2020.
  8. ^ "Here are 5 facts about the Selma march you may not know". NBC News. Retrieved September 5, 2020.