Foster’s impact on Selma lasting

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, September 9, 2003

She was not a big person, physically, but the imprint Marie Foster left on Selma and beyond will continue to be felt for years to come.

There were only 150 blacks in Dallas County registered to vote when Chestnut opened the first black law office in Selma in 1958. &uot;Most of those,&uot; Chestnut added, &uot;had to be vouched for by a white voter.&uot;

That would change, in large part, because of the direct efforts of the Boyntons and of Marie Foster. &uot;Marie Foster correctly diagnosed a serious problem that the rest of us missed,&uot; Chestnut recalled. &uot;Very few blacks in Dallas County were even attempting to register.&uot;

Even as late as the early 1960s, blacks were still being denied the right to vote by being required to take a &uot;test&uot; to determine their fitness to vote.

In response, Foster &045; who herself tried to register eight times before she succeeded &045; began conducting a series of &uot;citizenship classes,&uot; in which copies of old tests were used as study guides.

Foster convinced black pastors to promote the classes from their pulpits. She took leaflets describing the classes door to door. Still, it was slow going initially.

Said Chestnut, &uot;She held that first citizenship meeting in her home. There was only one person in attendance, an old man by the name of Major Washington. Marie kept him there until 10 o’clock, until she had taught him to write his name. She continued to hold those classes in her home up until the Voting Rights Act passed in 1965.&uot;

According to Chestnut, it was Foster and Amelia Boynton and the other members of the &uot;Courageous Eight&uot; &045; eight blacks on the steering committee of the Dallas County Voters League &045; who convinced the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to come to Selma to lead voter registration efforts here.

When blacks marched across the Edmund Pettus Bridge on March 7, 1965, to protest voting rights abuses in Dallas County, Marie Foster was in the third row. The marchers were attacked and turned back by Alabama State Troopers and Dallas County Sheriffs deputies.

Television footage of the attack &045; which has come to be known as simply &uot;Bloody Sunday &045; stunned the nation. Foster was among those who were badly beaten. But when another march, this one led by King, took place the following Tuesday, she bandaged her swollen knees and joined the other marchers.

And when marchers were finally allowed to continue all the way to Montgomery, Foster was again among those who marched. She continued to wear the vest she wore on that march throughout the rest of her life. It was autographed by virtually every leader in the civil rights movement.

The vest remains on display in the National Voting Rights Institute and Museum.

As a direct result of that Selma-to-Montgomery march, Congress passed the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

It has been widely noted that within six weeks of the passage of that act, there were some 10,000 blacks registered to vote in Dallas County &045; a far cry from the 150 who were registered in 1958.