People's Advocate clipping

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Foote, William Henderson; Yazoo County (Miss.); Lynching--Mississippi

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Some historian of A.D. 1984, turning over a trunkful of old letters and worn and musty newspapers of the winter of 1883-'84, may wonder why, when the body of a U.S. officer shot to death by a mob, recovered by his friends, and laid in the church awaiting burial, the insignia of Masonic rank laid upon the coffin and crowds of the brotherhood and friends waiting to pay the last rites, the officiating minister as he rose in his pulpit should be greeted by the Mayor of the city, a posse at his back, with: "Say what you've got to say over that corpse mighty quick, and mind what you say, too. And if you colored Masons form a procession, we've got two hundred muskets over to our lodge, and there'll be somebody else killed."

Well, we wonder too. Are we living in the dark ages? Has the world gone backwards? What sort of people compose this American Union? Who was this United States officer? Let us see. William H. Foote was Deputy Collector of Internal Revenue in Yazoo City, Mississippi. Of large and powerful physique, standing five feet nine, and though a few drops of African blood coursed in his veins, he called himself a Southern gentleman, boasting his descent from the first families in Mississippi. He was brave, shrewd and intelligent; a freeman in ante-bellum days, and apparently liked and respected by the Yazoo City people. He had served two terms in the Mississippi legislature, as a republican, and, for some years had charge of the branch office of the Internal Revenue of Yazoo City.

It appears from the statement of eyewitnesses that Mr. Foote, and some friends, had been to the church which they attended, arranging a Christmas tree. The presents were hung, the debris removed, and all things made ready for the evening, they locked the door and made their way home. In the street they came upon a white man and a Negro having an altercation, and, as usual, a crowd had collected about the combatants.

To say that Mr. Foote, or his friends were in any way concerned in the riot is utterly false and untrue. Collector Foote fearlessly walked into the crowd, believing that he had influence with both races, and his desire was to be a peacemaker; but if the blessing of the peacemaker is his, it is in that world were the proud rebel Bourbon may find things the reverse of matters on this sphere. Shots were fired and three white men killed, Collector Foote knocked down and beaten on the head with a baseball club and dragged to jail.

For four days the Coroner's jury sat on an inquest, and then the result was made public, declaring Mr. Foote and other Negroes guilty of murder! It is an axiom in the South, that, given a crime committed and a Negro to charge it upon, there is no further search made for the guilty party, though that Negro may have been a mile away from the scene, and so far as that crime is concerned, he may first hear of it when arrested.

But to return: on the evening of the 29th of December, 1883, the mob of "poah wite trash" marched up to the jail, every mother's son armed to the teeth. They overpowered the guards; they obtained the keys, and took possession of the jail, and brutally hung one of the four doomed men.

Then they went to the cell where Collector Foote was confined, but the brave fellow, with death grinning at his elbow, meant to choose his way of exit from earth. He collected all the small movables in the room, courting a bullet rather than the degradation of the rope.

The first man who entered was knocked down. The prisoner fought like a tiger; the light was thrown down and extinguished, and, in the dark, the rebels fired shot after shot till the struggle ceased. When the lights were brought in, it was found that Foote still breathed. Six more shots were fired, his head being literally shot away before the rebels were sure that he was dead!

The third Negro was hung, the fourth shot to death, and the mad, howling rioting crew of murders retired, their glorious work completed - they had barbarously murdered four helpless, unarmed prisoners.

The friends of Collector Foote obtained the mutilated body and carried it to Vicksburg, where it lay in state all day. It was proposed to have a large procession of the different lodges of Masons, - for the deceased Collector was a Mason of high rank, - attend the funeral, and appropriate ceremonies at the church and at the grave, but after the threats uttered, the funeral was, of necessity, very quiet and unostentatious.

Now, here is an innocent man, and an United States officer, mobbed and murdered for committing a murder he knew no more about than the Khedive of Egypt. The last sad rites of respect paid to the remains by the friends, forbidden by those comrades of the mob dressed in a little brief authority, because this man was a Republican, and though boasting the best blood of Mississippi ran in his veins there were a few drops of African also, and his complexion wore the livery of the burnished sun.

We have fondly supposed that "Vox populi, vox Dei" was an indisputable proposition, one of the pillars of the American Constitution, but we are getting converted to old Dick Taylor's new reading, that in the South the proverb should run "Vox populi, vox diaboli."


People's Advocate, “People's Advocate clipping,” Mississippi State University Libraries, accessed December 3, 2023,

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