Recently, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) presented its gold star medal to William Henderson Foote, the first African-American federal law enforcement officer killed in the line of duty.
Foote, who served as a post-Reconstruction Era deputy collector with the U.S. Department of the Treasury, Bureau of Internal Revenue, an ATF legacy agency, was honored during the annual conference of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives (NOBLE) in Lexington, Ky., 128 years after his death.
ATF’s Acting Director Kenneth Melson, NOBLE’s Executive Director Jessie Lee and members of the Foote family attended the ceremony. Foote’s grandniece Dr. Bettye Gardner, a professor of African-American history at Coppin State University, Baltimore, proudly accepted the award.
Foote was killed Dec. 29, 1883, in Yazoo City, Miss., while jailed. He was awaiting trial in connection with a racially motivated incident in which he intervened.
“ATF is proud to honor the memory of William Henderson Foote, whose bravery, courageous service and ultimate sacrifice for his country are especially significant given the circumstances surrounding his death,” said Milson.
According to ATF historian Barbara Osteika, three white men were killed, eight African-American men were jailed and a posse gunned one down as he resisted arrest. Four African-Americans were lynched, including Foote. Deputy collectors preceded today’s ATF special agents.
“NOBLE is honored to participate in the presentation of this ATF posthumous award to William Foote and to recognize his heroism as a federal law enforcement officer during a volatile period in our nation’s history,” said Lee.
ATF was honored to pay homage to Foote’s heroism, dedication to service and ultimate sacrifice. Next year, Foote’s name will be immortalized on the ATF Memorial Wall and the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Washington, D.C.