MELROSE, the Bronx (PIX11) – The Bronx’s first Black elected official died almost three years ago, but his legacy now lives on forever.
The corner of East 161st Street and Forest Avenue in Melrose has a newly added street sign reading “Reverend T Wendell Foster Way” after the city council member who served the borough in more ways than one for decades.
City Councilmember Rafael Salamanca Jr., who represents the 17th District, passed legislation to get the co-naming approved. “Many times when you look at street co-namings, they look at movie stars, basketball stars, but we have pillars in our communities that we always have to recognize,” Salamanca Jr. said.
Born in a small segregated town in Alabama, Foster came to New York as a teenager. He later became the founding pastor of Christ Church, which is on the same street where the new sign stands.
Foster’s friend, the Rev. Dr. Jim Fairbanks, said surrounding the church in the 1970s and 1980s was devastation because the Bronx was burning.
“There was nothing but bricks on lots,” Fairbanks said. “It was all rubble. That man spent his life rebuilding the South Bronx, not for the wealthy, not for the upper-middle class like it is now, but for the poor — the low- and moderate-income residents of the Bronx.”
His daughter Helen Foster took over his seat in the 16th District when he left the city council. “This was his home,” Helen said. “When the Bronx was burning, we never moved and he invested his time and his energy, not just in the borough but in the people.”
He was an advocate during the Civil Rights Movement and paved the way for other Black officials to be elected. Vanessa Gibson represented the 16th District after Helen and now serves as the Bronx Borough President.
“It is because of his service and his sacrifice and his labor that I can say that I am the first African American- and female-elected Bronx Borough President,” Gibson said.
The street sign isn’t the only piece of public property that will bear the reverend’s name. Later this year, Mullaly Park, also in the South Bronx, will be renamed in his honor. The family is also working to get a library in the borough named after him as well.