Listen Live
Majic 102.3/92.7 Featured Video

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.

Read more at Black America Web