Marcus Foster 3

Dr. Marcus Albert Foster (March 31, 1923 – November 6, 1973) was the first Black superintendent of the Oakland Unified School District. He was assassinanted by the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA, of Patty Hearst fame) because they mistakenly believed he supported student ID cards, police in schools and other Big Brother-esque stuff.

The youngest of 5 children, he was born in Athens, GA into a family of educators. His family moved to Philadelphia, PA when he was 3 years old. He attended high school and Cheyney State College in Philadelphia. He earned educational degrees from the University of Pennsylvania, Lincoln University, and St. Joseph's College. He was a teacher and principal in several elementary schools, teaching multiple subjects. He was the principal of Simon Gratz High School, where he started new programs and initiated community involvement. 1

Dr. Foster accepted the position of Superintendent of Schools for the Oakland Unified School District, arriving in Oakland in June 1970. He was the first black man to head a major U.S. school district 1. He employed his belief in community involvement, setting up a "Master Plan Citizens Committee". He decentralized the school system, dividing the city into 3 regions 1.

Death and Burial

On the evening of November 6, 1973, Marcus Foster and his deputy Robert Blackburn were shot by SLA gunmen. Foster was hit with bullets dipped in cyanide and died, but Blackburn was hit by a shotgun blast and survived, and was treated at Highland Hospital. Foster is buried in Mountain View Cemetery. His wife Albertine (Abbe) Foster died on December 27, 2011, and is buried alongside him.

His wife, Albertine was a teacher and administrative assistant. The Fosters daughter, Marsha, taught in Castro Valley 1 and was attending Stanford University at the time of Marcus' assassination. Barney Hilburn was the president of the school board at the time and a friend of the Foster family.

Ida L. Jackson, the first African American teacher for the Oakland Unified School District with Supt. Dr. Marcus Foster, Oakland, California (May 11, 1973) 2 Marcus Foster grave, Mountain View Cemetery
photo from Our Oakland

Links and References

  1. Hallum, Rosemary with Albertine Foster. "Dr. Marcus A. Foster: A Man for All People." Alameda County School Department. [1974]
  2. Oakland Public Library, Oakland History Center
  3. Foster (Marcus) Collection MS 149 at African American Museum and Library at Oakland


  • Foster, Marcus A. "Making Schools Work" [1971]
  • McCorry, Jess J. Marcus Foster and the Oakland Public Schools: Leadership in and Urban Bureaucracy. The Oakland Project series. University of California Press. Berkeley Press. [1978]. Link to copy at Oakland Public Library.
  • Resnik, Henry. "Turning on the System" - section on Dr. Foster
  • Spencer, John P. In the Crossfire: Marcus Foster and the Troubled History of American School Reform. University of Pennsylvania Press. [2012]