Marcus Foster

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Marcus Albert Foster
Marcus A. Foster.jpg
Born(1923-03-31)March 31, 1923
DiedNovember 6, 1973(1973-11-06) (aged 50)
Cause of deathGunshot wounds
Resting placeMountain View Cemetery
Alma materB.A., Cheyney State College, 1947
Ed.D., University of Pennsylvania, 1971
Years active1957–1973
EmployerOakland Unified School District
Known forOakland's first African American Superintendent;
founder of the Marcus A. Foster Educational Institute;
murdered by SLA
SuccessorRobert Blackburn
Spouse(s)Albertine Ramseur Foster

Marcus Albert Foster (March 31, 1923 – November 6, 1973) was an American educator who gained a national reputation for educational excellence while serving as principal of Simon Gratz High School in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (1966-1969), as Associate Superintendent of Schools in Philadelphia (1969-1970), and as the first black Superintendent of a large city school district when he was appointed Superintendent of the Oakland Unified School District in Oakland, California in 1970.[1] Foster was assassinated in 1973 by members of the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA).

Early life and education[edit]

Foster was born in Athens, Georgia, later attending public schools in Philadelphia, graduating from South Philadelphia High School.[1] His mother Alice fostered Marcus's mastery of Standard English by highlighting its importance as the dominant syntax.[2] Subsequently, as a young man he was both exceptionally scholastic and rebellious, opting to frequent the Club Ziger where one had to "smoke a stogie and drink a lot of wine to get in." Furthermore, as a member of the Trojans, a neighborhood men's club, his comrade Frye noted Foster "could hold his hands up".[3] This broad range of youth experience aided Foster throughout his life, affording him a disposition to connect with and inspire students of myriad backgrounds while drawing together disparate groups advocating for alternative, at times oppositional, visions of social reform.[4] He graduated from Cheyney State College in 1947 and earned the Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) from the University of Pennsylvania.[1]


From 1957 to 1970 Foster taught in the Philadelphia public schools, served as principal of Dunbar Elementary School, O.V. Catto School for Boys and Gratz High School. He also served as Associate Superintendent for Community Relations.[1] He moved to Oakland in 1970 when he was appointed Superintendent of Oakland Public Schools.[1]


Foster was assassinated on November 6, 1973, by members of the Symbionese Liberation Army. The SLA claimed they killed Foster because of his alleged support of a plan to create a student identification card system in Oakland that proponents claimed would help keep non-student drug-dealers off campus. Foster was shot eight times with hollow-point bullets that had been packed with cyanide.[5] His deputy, Robert Blackburn, was also shot, but survived. Joe Remiro and Russ Little were sentenced to life in prison for their role in the attack. Little was released on appeal after serving five years in prison.[6] Remiro remains incarcerated in San Quentin State Prison serving his life sentence. SLA leader Donald DeFreeze, who committed suicide during the May 1974 SLA shootout with the LAPD, is suspected of being the other person present who shot Blackburn.[7]

Foster is buried in Mountain View Cemetery in Oakland. His widow, Albertine Ramseur Foster, died in 2011[8] and was buried alongside him. His daughter, Marsha Foster Boyd is President Emerita of Ecumenical Theological Seminary in Detroit, Michigan.[9]

Honors and tributes[edit]

Foster received the prestigious Philadelphia Award in 1969, which recognizes individuals who have made positive contributions to the city of Philadelphia. After his death, several sites were named in his honor, including the athletic fields at Gratz High School in Philadelphia including the now closed Marcus Foster Indoor Pool featured in the movie Pride, and the Student Union building at Cheyney University. The School District of Philadelphia established the Marcus A. Foster Award, which is given annually to a School District administrator for noteworthy contributions in curriculum, instruction, school improvement or administration.[10] Both the University of Pennsylvania and University of California Berkeley Graduate Schools of Education have each established the Marcus Foster Fellowship.

The Oakland portion of the state-mandated program to retrofit all schools for earthquake safety in the 1970s, during which dozens of schools were either retrofitted or demolished and rebuilt, was named the Marcus Foster Earthquake Safe program.

The Oakland Education Institute was founded by Foster in 1973 to raise discretionary funds to promote excellence in Oakland schools, through the collaborative efforts of Oakland's diverse communities. After his death, the Institute was renamed the Marcus A. Foster Education Institute in honor of Foster.[11] In conjunction with Oakland-area businesses, the Institute awards 60 yearly scholarships ranging from $1000 to $2000 to Oakland high school students. Over 1,500 students have received these scholarships. The Fund also regularly awards up to $2000 to Oakland public schools teachers who develop innovative educational projects.[12]

In 1975, the Association of California School Administrators (ACSA) established the Marcus Foster Memorial Award for Administrator Excellence, which is given annually to an ACSA member who personifies the ideals of Marcus Foster. Recipients of this award receive a $5,000 grant for a designated high school senior or seniors.[13]


  1. ^ a b c d e Ohles, Frederik; Shirley M. Ohles; John G. Ramsay (1997). Biographical Dictionary of Modern American Educators. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press. pp. 432. ISBN 0-313-29133-0. OCLC 36430647. Retrieved March 16, 2009. marcus a foster March 31, 1923.
  2. ^ Spencer, John (August 2012). In the Crossfire: Marcus Foster and the Troubled History of American School Reform (1st ed.). Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. p. 30. ISBN 978-0-8122-4435-9.
  3. ^ Spencer, John (August 2012). Marcus Foster and the Troubled History of American School Reform. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. p. 31. ISBN 978-0-8122-4435-9.
  4. ^ Spencer, John (August 2012). IN THE CROSSFIRE Marcus Foster and the Troubled History of American School Reform (1st ed.). Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. p. 38. ISBN 978-0-8122-4435-9.
  5. ^ "Oakland Bullets Had Cyanide". The Washington Post. November 11, 1973. p. A2. Retrieved 2007-08-18. Investigators say bullets used in the murder of Oakland's school superintendent contained cyanide. Roland Prahl, chief investigator for the Alameda County coroner's office, said Friday that five slugs recovered during the autopsy on the superintendent, Marcus Foster, had the "distinctive odor of cyanide." A coroner's report verified the presence of the poison.[dead link]
  6. ^ "Murder in California", Time, 19 November 1973. Accessed 14 January 2007
  7. ^ Taylor, Michael (November 14, 2002). "Forgotten Footnote: Before Hearst, SLA killed educator". San Francisco Chronicle. pp. A-17. Retrieved 2009-03-17.
  8. ^ Obituary: Albertine Ramseur (Abbe) Foster Oakland Tribune, 01 January 2011
  9. ^ Ecumenical Theological Seminary
  10. ^ "21st Annual Celebration of Excellence in Education", School District of Philadelphia, Accessed 2007-01-14
  11. ^ "Marcus Foster Education Fund". Marcus Foster Education Fund. Retrieved 17 December 2012.
  12. ^ Marcus A. Foster Educational Institute - Our Programs; Accessed 2007-01-14 Archived December 11, 2006, at the Wayback Machine
  13. ^ "ACSA Awards Program".

External links[edit]