First black Bronx councilman Wendell Foster passes at 95

Rev. Dr. Wendell Foster was a 23-year councilman, Civil Rights advocate and Christ Church founding pastor.
Photo courtesy of CORE (Congress of Racial Equality)

The Bronx mourns the loss of a historic councilman and Civil Rights advocate.

Rev. Dr. Wendell Foster, the first African American from the Bronx elected to the City Council, passed away on Wednesday, September 4 at 95-years-old.

Foster served on the Council from January 1, 1978 to December 31, 2001.

“Rev. Dr. Wendell Foster was a trailblazer, the first black elected representing the Bronx in the City Council,” Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said. “He was a mentor to many of today’s leaders.”

Foster, a Civil Rights advocate, was involved with New York CORE (Congress of Racial Equality) since the mid 1940s.

He played a central role in the Pallisades Park demonstrations in the summers of 1947 and 1948.

According to NY CORE, Foster and other members went into the New Jersey amusement park’s water and refused to leave during the demonstrations to integrate the park’s swimming pools.

The Alabama native and his wife of nearly 63 years Helen moved to Highbridge in 1964.

In 1965, he was appointed the American Committee on Africa’s associate director and frequently collaborated with CORE founding members George Houser and James Robinson.

That same year, Foster marched alongside the late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and other Civil Rights activists on the Selma to Montgomery March.

In Morrisania, Foster served as a founding pastor at Christ Church on 860 Forest Avenue for over 42 years.

He recently became a pastor emeritus at the ‘church where visitors are only strangers once.’

Foster had previously ran twice for the City Council before he was finally elected in 1977.

Throughout his 23-year tenure, he served as a councilman for the 16th Council District which encompasses Morrisania, Highbridge, Claremont, Concourse, Concourse Village, Morris Heights and Mount Eden.

His daughter Helen Diane Foster was elected in 2001 to his council seat as he became term limited.

Much like her father, Helen Diane Foster also made history by becoming the first African American woman elected from the Bronx to the City Council. She served as councilwoman from January 1, 2002 to December 31, 2013 and was succeeded by former Assemblywoman Vanessa Gibson.

“I am honored to represent the same district he led in the Council for 23 years,” Gibson expressed. “He was a committed and dedicated public servant who gave his all to making a difference during a challenging time in the Bronx.”

Local and city elected officials expressed their gratitude for Foster’s public service.

“He was a historic figure in our borough and a dedicated public servant,” Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr. stated. “My thoughts are with his family and friends during this difficult time.”

“(Wendell Foster) endured Jim Crow, marched for Civil Rights, fought to open doors of opportunity for his constituents in the Bronx and blazed a trail for black lawmakers across our city,” Mayor de Blasio stated.

Foster is survived by his wife Helen; his daughters Helen and Rebekah and his two grandchildren.

More from Around NYC