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Trailblazing former Bronx Councilman Wendell Foster dies at 95


Councilman Wendell Foster in his last bill signing ceremony at City Hall in 2001. (Maisel, Todd/New York Daily News)

Wendell Foster, a longtime councilman, pastor and civil rights activist who blazed a trail for black lawmakers in the Bronx, died Tuesday. He was 95.

Born in Alabama during the Jim Crow era, Foster came to New York City on a Greyhound bus in hopes of a better life at age 13.

Councilman Rev. Wendell Foster, the Pastor of Christ Church, 860 Forest Avenue in the Bronx.
Councilman Rev. Wendell Foster, the Pastor of Christ Church, 860 Forest Avenue in the Bronx. (ANTHONY PESCATORE/New York Daily News)

After becoming a minister and marrying, he and his young family settled in the Bronx. As economic and social conditions in the borough deteriorated in the 1970s, Foster felt compelled to run for office, telling the New York Times in a 2009 interview, “I realized there was little participation of blacks in the political system — at least they were not appointed or elected to office.

“So I began to try and organize the black community.”

It took three runs for Foster to win the council seat representing Highbridge, Morrisania and the South Bronx. The first black person elected to city office in the borough, he held the post for 24 years and was succeeded by his daughter Helen Diane Foster.

He was active in the Civil Rights movement, standing alongside with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on the fateful march from Selma to Montgomery, Ala., in 1965.

Foster long led Christ Church in Morrisania, recently becoming its pastor emeritus.

“The liberation movement has never ceased: It’s always been,” Foster told the Times. “You’ll always find a few nuts like myself out there, trying to better things."

Condolences poured in from Bronx officials who remembered him as an inspiration to enter public service.

“His work paved the way for African-American elected officials in the Bronx and I proudly stand upon his shoulders thankful for his service through the years,” Councilwoman Vanessa Gibson said in a statement.

He is survived by his wife of 63 years Helen Foster, daughters Helen Diane Foster and Rebekah Foster and a granddaughter, Gibson said.