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A Lawman Killed By Hate; Now, ATF Remembers

May 20, 2012
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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

A man named William Henderson Foote received a long-delayed honor last week. Mr. Foote was a black federal lawman in Mississippi in the 1880s. He worked as a deputy tax collector for a precursor to the ATF - that's the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. On Christmas Eve 1883 in Yazoo City, Foote intervened to try and save the life of a black man who was about to be lynched by a group of whites. What exactly happened that night remains in the shadows of history, but when the smoke cleared, William Foote and a group of other blacks who had joined him stood over the bodies of the three white, would-be lynchers. Despite his position as a federal agent, Foote and the other men were arrested and thrown in jail. Four days later, on December 29th, a 200-person white mob came for them. This is what The New York Times wrote back then on December 30th: quote, "For a doomed man, Foote took matters very coolly. He walked over and took a drink from a bucket then placed himself with his left side against the wall and stood facing the spot where he would meet the first man who entered." That first man went down, according to The Times, then Foote was shot at least five times. Now, over 100 years later, the ATF is officially acknowledging William Henderson Foote's death. This past week, with his great-grandniece and great-granddaughter in attendance, the agent's named was unveiled on the ATF's Memorial Wall here in Washington.

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