WASHINGTON – William Henderson Foote was a badge-wearing black federal law enforcement official in America’s Deep South, responsible for collecting liquor tax revenue from wholesalers and retailers at a time of heightened racial tensions in post-Reconstruction Mississippi. He joined the military at the start of the Civil War and later was politically active, championing civil rights and serving in 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 whipping.
Nearly 130 years later, federal authorities on Monday paid tribute to Foote by unveiling the addition of 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 legacy agencies, was the first black federal law enforcement official to die in the line of duty in the post-Reconstruction era.
Descendants of Foote attended the ceremony, as did the wife of U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder.
Foote was working at the time of his death in Yazoo City as a deputy collector for the Bureau of Internal Revenue, which was responsible for enforcing the nation’s liquor tax laws. He was fatally shot on Dec. 29, 1883 by a white mob that stormed a jailhouse where he and 10 other blacks were being held for their role in shielding a townsman from a whipping party, according to a biography prepared by ATF historian Barbara Ostreika. The 10 others were lynched.