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Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives

For Immediate Release

May 14, 2012


Contact: Public Affairs Division

(202) 648-8500

ATF Honors First African American Post-Reconstruction Era Federal Law Enforcement Officer Killed in the Line of Duty

WASHINGTON – The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) today paid tribute to the first African American post-Reconstruction era federal law enforcement officer killed in the line of duty almost 130 years after his death. The name of William Henderson Foote, a deputy tax collector with the U.S. Department of the Treasury, Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR), was unveiled on ATF’s Memorial Wall during a memorial ceremony commemorating National Police Week. ATF’s Acting Director B. Todd Jones and Dr. Sharon Malone, the wife of U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, provided remarks. Members of the Foote family attended the ceremony.

Foote was killed Dec. 29, 1883, in Yazoo City, Miss., while jailed and awaiting trial in conjunction with a racially charged incident in which he intervened as a federal law enforcement officer with the BIR, an ATF legacy agency.

ATF is proud to honor the memory of William Henderson Foote whose bravery and sacrifice are emblematic of the commitment that is shared by all ATF personnel who work tirelessly to protect the American people from violent crime, Jones said.

ATF recently learned of Foote’s service while researching agents killed in the line of duty. Although limited in scope, official employment records and documentary evidence provide insight regarding Foote, the era during which he served and the circumstances under which he died.

Last year, ATF posthumously awarded its Gold Star Medal to Foote in honor of his heroism and sacrifice. This week, in addition to ATF’s Memorial Wall, Foote’s name has been unveiled on the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial here in Washington.

Foote was killed following a highly charged racial incident Dec. 24, 1883, when he attempted to stop a group of White men from assaulting an African American male. Three White men were killed and Foote and other Black men were arrested and indicted for murder. As Foote and the others awaited trial, an angry crowd stormed the jail and killed Foote and three other African American prisoners.

Foote was born June 27, 1843, in Vicksburg, Miss., into the city’s free African American community. It is believed that he attended Oberlin College in Ohio sometime after the Civil War. By 1867, during Reconstruction, Foote returned to Mississippi where he took up residence in Yazoo City and became the city constable. From 1870-1871, he represented Yazoo County in the state legislature while serving as town marshal and circuit clerk. In 1876, Foote became the city's tax collector and by 1880 he was enforcing federal liquor tax laws as a federal deputy collector or revenuer. As he faced violent resistance and opposition to liquor tax laws, Foote earned a solid reputation as one who was dedicated to enforcing the rule of law.

Deputy collectors are believed to be direct forerunners of today’s special agents because of their enforcement of federal tax laws. They collected taxes from licensed wholesale and retail distilleries, seized illicit distilleries and moonshine products and arrested and prosecuted tax violators.

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