Foster was one of twelve children born to James Foster, a steelworker, and his wife, Effie Mae. He graduated from Parker High School in 1950 and completed his bachelor of science in mathematics and chemistry at Alabama A&M University. While there he pledged Omega Psi Phi and met Wernher von Braun who was trying to promote science education in north Alabama. He also met his wife, Dorothy, whose family lived in the small black community of Triana outside Huntsville. He was drafted into the U.S. Army during the Korean War and served for two years, including one year in Germany. After his discharge he took a job teaching science for Dallas County Schools in Selma in 1956.
Foster's wife urged him to move back to Madison County and set up an interview for him at the Army Ballistic Missile Agency at Redstone Arsenal in 1957. In 1960 that agency became part of the newly-established NASA Marshall Space Flight Center. As Marshall Space Flight Center expanded to work on NASA's planned lunar landing, he was asked to train a white colleague who was to become his supervisor. He refused the assignment and requested that NASA make an effort to recruit and advance African Americans, in part by hosting training opportunities at facilities that were open to African Americans.
The center's director, Von Braun, agreed to Foster's request and gave him leave to help develop a program in computer science at Alabama A&M University. Foster served as director of that department from 1968 to 1970 and helped to establish an undergraduate degree program (the first computer science degree offered at any public college in Alabama), and a data processing laboratory there, while NASA paid his salary.
When Marshall's Equal Employment Opportunity Office opened in 1972, Foster was appointed a staff officer, then promoted to lead the office as deputy director in June 1975. He served a one-year term as president of the National Technical Association from 1982 to 1983. He retired from NASA in 1987 and operated his own warehousing company, Prep-Tech Inc.
Meanwhile, Foster also helped Triana restore their municipal charter and was appointed mayor, serving from 1964 to 1984. With the new charter, Triana was able to secure federal grants to pave roads, construct a water system, and renovate the town hall. His example led the way for other black communities to incorporate or re-incorporate. He also advanced a lawsuit against a local polluter that resulted in a $24 million settlement in Triana's favor.
Foster died in March 2017. He was survived by his wife, five children, five grandchildren and one great-grandchild. He is buried at Faith Memorial Park in Madison County.
- Dunar, Andrew J. (April 23, 1990) "Interview with Clyde Foster" Marshall Space Flight Center History Project
- Paul, Richard and Steven Moss (2015). "The Country Spartacus: Clyde Foster" in We Could Not Fail: The First African Americans in the Space Program. Austin, Texas: University of Texas Press. ISBN 9780292772519 , pp. 151-
- Mohon, Lee (February 14, 2018). "Clyde Foster" NASA
- Fletcher, Michael A. (July 8, 2019) "Another hidden figure: Clyde Foster brought color to NASA" The Undefeated
- Clyde Foster at Findagrave.com