WASHINGTON (AP) — William Henderson Foote was a black federal law enforcement official in America’s Deep South at a time of heightened racial tensions, tasked with collecting liquor tax revenue from wholesalers and retailers in post-Reconstruction Mississippi. He joined the military at the start of the Civil War and later was politically active, championing civil rights and ascending to the state legislature.
But his name was largely lost to history after his 1883 murder in Mississippi by a white mob irate that he had protected a black man who was targeted for a beating.
Nearly 130 years later, federal authorities on Monday honored Foote by adding his name to a memorial wall at the headquarters of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. The ATF says Foote, a deputy collector at one of the bureau’s predecessor agencies, was the first black federal law enforcement official to die in the line of duty after Reconstruction.
“He lost his life as all of these agents did, protecting our community and enforcing the rule of law,” acting ATF director B. Todd Jones said, referring to the fallen agents honored on the wall.
Foote’s story was brought to the ATF’s attention by the bureau’s historian, Barbara Osteika, who came upon newspaper articles about his death while doing research. She drew from news coverage, academic articles, government records and family stories passed down through generations to piece together the biography and the circumstances of his death
The son of a barber and a homemaker, Foote was born into a free black family in Vicksburg, Miss., in 1843. He served in the Civil War, and is thought to have attended Oberlin College in Ohio. After the war, he became a community leader, once riding on horseback to rally voters who were being blocked from entering a polling place. He acted as town marshal and served in the state legislature.
Foote took a position in Yazoo City as a deputy collector for the Bureau of Internal Revenue, which was responsible for enforcing the nation’s liquor tax laws and seizing illicit distilleries. It was a busy and intense job, at a time when liquor was flowing freely. Steamboats traveling the Yazoo River would deliver liquor to merchants, barrels of whiskey were shipped from town to town and Yazoo City — home to fewer than 2,500 residents — was served by some 40 liquor stores and saloons in the 1870s, according to Osteika’s biography.
Race relations were raw and blacks remained targets of hangings, beatings and other violence.
On Christmas Eve 1883, Foote left his family at a church service after learning that a white merchant, John T. Posey, had come into town with plans to whip a black man, John James, in revenge for a slight. Foote intervened between James and the whipping party. Three white men, including Posey, were killed in the gunfight that followed.
“Courageous men are men who understand the danger and still choose to act,” said Dr. Sharon Malone, the wife of Attorney General Eric Holder and a sixth-generation Alabaman who detailed Foote’s biography at Monday’s ceremony. “There’s no doubt that William Henderson Foote understood exactly what awaited him that day and yet chose to stand up and do the right thing.”
Foote and 10 others were arrested. But on Dec. 29, a mob of more than 200 people overwhelmed the Yazoo City jail, where Foote was awaiting trial. Foote was shot so many times as to be unrecognizable and three other black prisoners were also killed.
Foote has also been honoredat the National Police Officers Memorial in Washington as part of National Police Week. Many of his descendants attended Monday’s ATF ceremony, posing for photographs and placing flowers against the memorial wall.
His great-niece, Bettye Gardner, a history professor, said stories about Foote’s life and death had been passed down by her mother. She said she was overwhelmed that Foote was “getting the level of recognition, the level of honor that he should — given the life that he led.”
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This Week’s Celebrity Instagrams (10/15-10/21)
31 photos Launch gallery
1. Just a NY girl with BIG dreams....
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2. HAPPY CHILDREN=QUALITY PARENTING. We don't always see eye to eye on everything and that's normal. We're human beings. But we come together and do it right for what's important, the kids. We are not enemies, we are parents. And we are parents 1st. S/O to @monyettashaw for making Mason's bday memorable. S/O to @itscrystalsmith at home taking care of our other lil' Prince. ❤️❤️❤️ THIS IS WHAT CO-PARENTING LOOKS LIKE. #Blessed #Happy #AboveTheDrama #BiggerThanUs
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3. So happy to finally be able to share with you all that I’m the new Global Brand Ambassador for @Revlon! Follow my day on RevlonSnaps. Yay! Choose Love, Everybody! #RevlonXCiara #chooselove #ad
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4. Glam on point!!!@makeupbymotoko & @shaylinjoneshair #easybreezy @lifetimetv #beachesmovie #january2017 😘
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5. ✨True love ✨📸: @jessiemarrerophotography
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7. Today was not easy..but by the grace of God we all got through it. Words cannot express our gratitude for all of your Prayers, Positive thoughts and Support for us throughout the years. Tommy will be missed but most certainly never forgotten...And PLEASE don't ask "Where's Martin?.." he was there too...just not in this picture. Lol! God bless you all.. #LoveConquersAll #MartinShow
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9. West coast get ready for #RockyHorror. I will be live tweeting again. #letsdothetimewarpagain
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10. #THEKEYS pre order yours now ... Available everywhere #NOV22 #WeTheBest 🔑🔑🔑🔑🔑🔑🔑🔑🔑🔑🔑🔑🔑🔑🔑🔑🔑🔑🔑🔑
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11. We about to ROCK at #KCABlackBall!! All for our life-changing effort to end 🌎 AIDS.
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12. Today's #SNAPJACK is brought to you by @yazzthegreatest 😂😂😂💋💋💋
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13. Damn girl you kinda old to be headed to the Go Go. You coming in at the age they leaving. LMAO
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14. Daddy daycare B-Boxin with @acewellstucker @shopraisingace
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15. #FBF Naviyd & URV "LIL MONSTERS"
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16. HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ONE OF THE BIGGEST LEGENDS IN OUR HIPHOP HISTORY! @snoopdogg CONTINUED BLESSING AND LOVE FAMILY!!!!! REAL OG!
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17. Thank you for a beautiful night VSU! Let's do it again! #HOMECOMING
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18. Had a great time this morning with my familia Erica, Griff & Truth!!
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19. Check out my interview on @essence facebook live. #inmyownwords #nycpromo #day2
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20. #She💋 #tbt #TheCoveAtTheAtlantis #DawgPawsAndAll
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21. Bae #retailtherapy
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22. Why me and @coryhardrict got the same pose... and notee... new mouth #naked
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23. When my husband is my personal 'hype-man'! it kills me every time! 💜😂 #WHATNOW #lostfiles📷
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24. Diggy Simmons
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25. Hand full of @jacquieaiche 💙💎💍 @esnail_la 💅🏾
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26. SuperSoulers! You can watch my interview with Carl Lentz live from my Facebook page, tomorrow at 11a ET| 8a PT. #SuperSoulSunday
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27. 💋 .. When the friendship is easy like Sunday morning. ☀️
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28. Sunday mornings are the best........... hugs and cuddles with my angel
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29. #huggar16 #hellohuggars
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30. My gym is everywhere!.. #RnBMoney #TheGeneral 📸: @twelvepastseven
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31. Nothing I would rather be doing... Rocko setting up our movie, Romelō working on a puzzle & Laiyah singing and sharing all she's learning at school... I'm so grateful for the joy they've brought into my life ... Praying for peace , joy & love in the home of EVERY family ♥️ #HeadScarfPJSunday LOL 😂
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