Marie Cowser

"You know, we kind of talk about what do we want people to say about us. Just say I fought like hell, I worked like hell, and I believed in my community and my people. And that I was a good mother, I'm doing the best I can to be an excellent grandmother, and that I just kept it real."
                                                                        - Marie Cowser, February 18th, 2007


Marie Cowser epitomized the words community activist.

She was the voice for the voiceless and underserved who lived in her neighborhood — Atlanta’s Old Fourth Ward. She worked for the Historic District Development Corporation (HDDC), a nonprofit that oversees the preservation and revitalization of the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic District.

“I have to say Marie wore her heart on her sleeve,” said Joan Garner, who has lived in the Fourth Ward since 1996. “When I was on the HDDC board, she was always there at every board meeting, at every community meeting. If you wanted someone to be a community activist, she was top-notch.” 

At HDDC, Ms. Cowser was the Director of Community Programs. In that role and others, she organized or took part in projects big and small, from neighborhood cleanups to assistance for first-time home buyers. She worked to ensure that revitalization funds were used properly in the inner-city neighborhood. As a member of the city license review board, she made sure corner stores were properly licensed to sell alcohol, Mrs. Garner said. 

In the 1980s, concerned Fourth Ward residents formed a group to combat neighborhood decay. It’s where Helene Mills met Ms. Cowser. The two activists hit it off. “We started working together and she sort of took to me like another mother,” Mrs. Mills said. “We worked together on all projects, and continued to work together when she joined the HDDC. If I had to describe her, she was really the person who took care of, and knew the needs of most of the residents in the neighborhood. She was the glue.”

Among other posts, Ms. Cowser had served as vice chairwoman of the Atlanta Empowerment Board and chairwoman of the Community Empowerment Advisory Board. In 2008, the Atlanta City Council presented Ms. Cowser with a proclamation in recognition of her efforts.

Atlanta City Councilman Kwanza Hall called Ms. Cowser the “moral compass” for the Fourth Ward’s redevelopment. “She mentored a generation of neighborhood leaders,” he wrote in a statement. “Our aspirations for the city as a whole have Marie’s values and her tenacity at its center.”

Marie Cowser passed away on June 14, 2009 at the age of 49 from complications of lung cancer. Her presence is sorely missed by HDDC, the Old Fourth Ward community and the City of Atlanta. However, her spirit lives on at HDDC and continues to inspire our work of community building and serving those in need.

Source: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution