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 (11/26-12/2)
30 photos Launch gallery
1. Little Legend and Puddy 😍😍😍😍
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2. "You on point Phife?" "all the time,Tip". 💥 #bannedfromnormal
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3. Vegan! The Impossible burger at Crossroads
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4. Lawrence #BeforeandAfterEpisodes 1-4: 184lbs 13% body fatEpisode 8: 196lbs 8% body fat S/O @coachdaveboxing with the works outs and @kildareriordan with the nutrition
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5. Jus haaaanngin out
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6. Meanwhile back at home in Atlanta GA someone mad they not on the 🛳. 😳
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7. No limits... Photo cred: Chris Bridges @ludacris
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8. new new
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9. Apparently my 260lbs is too much for the actual vines in the Hawaiian jungles to hold me without breaking and me falling hundreds of feet. So for safety purposes, I'm forced to swing thru #Jumanjj on wires strong enough to hold 12 adult buffaloes and 1 adult Rock. #OnSet #Jumanji #IronicallyIEatBuffaloDailyForLunch #MoreManThanNatureKnowsWhatToDoWith
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10. hey ma! 🎎#wcw 💙
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11. Surprise visit to our factories!!! #GoodAmerican #USA
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13. Peachy Keen 🔥✨⚡️
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14. If this don't look thankful I don't know what does. Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours. #UltraBlessed #24kMagic #SweetPotatoFly
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15. Late nights @nbcmarlon with the writers... we in here!!!
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16. There goes my baaaaaaaaabbbbyyyyy #QueenKingMagic!!! We're up to something! Ira BIG!!! Stay out our buisness -
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17. You want to win every game you play but when you come home to these faces... who cares. #ILoveYouGirls best part of my day, everyday!
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18. Steady,steady..... full size jenga.. "I got this one "???? Or do I ?
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19. Cornrows kind of day 😉@dontaysavoy2 you convinced me and I love. ❤️️
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20. #BrotherlyLove #tbt
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22. #basel #TeamLOVE @kingcombs
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23. Just introduced a special screening of @directher 's groundbreaking (must see) documentary @13thfilm with my brother @themichaelealy | @unitedblackout #blackoutblackfriday
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24. Me & Vanessa Williams giving #DuckLips #Pose on the set of #DaytimeDivas @vh1 - Coming Soon to a tv near you. Lol. - My make up done by @makeupsurgeon
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25. This picture just makes me wanna praise the Lord, you hear me!!!!!! Yes Lord brotha #TEDDYCAMPBELL What a #man !!! You are everything right on this picture husband ......... #gorgeous #stylish #classy #strong #masculine #king #sexy #debonair #gentlemenstyle And that #bible in your hand just seals the deal for me (probably cause i know that, that is what helped you become just as amazing as you look😘). While my heart and mind experiences the goodness of God at #church on Sundays, my eyes experiences the goodness of Teddy😍. Amen somebody🙌🏽. "Bless the Lord oh my soul and all that is within me bless his holy name" #myman #myhusband #goodman #blackman #dapperman #godlyman #goodfather #mybestfriend
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26. Yesterday was my mama's 53rd birthday!!!!! Got to celebrate with her all day. If this is what I have to look forward to I can't wait. Looking like a soft bucket a cocoa butter. Yaaaaaaaaaas! 😍😍😍 love you mommy!
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27. "Shout out to @PureAtlanta for getting the family right"....I'm loving this jogger. 😍😍
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28. This pic warms my heart ❤️ #myLogiebeans and aunt aunt umba @itowandabraxton 😘
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29. You will always be my baby😜. #HappyBirthdayReginae #mybaby18
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30. GC "Gods Child" Red on Red SweatSuit available now at www.MonicaApparel.com ... Take Your Crown wherever you go!! I'm pictured in a Medium... Go to the site now for other options ... cc: @trukernell
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