Robert Hillary King, aka Robert King Wilkerson, is part of a trio of American political prisoners collectively known as The Angola Three.
King’s membership in the only prison-recognized chapter of the Black Panther Party, and his work organizing against prison injustices, resulted in his being targeted for retaliation by prison officials. Despite overwhelming evidence exonerating him, prison-snitch testimony alone convicted him and he received a life sentence for the death of a fellow inmate. King’s tenacity in proving his innocence came to fruition when a Federal Appeals Court finally adjured him “probably innocent.” In February 2001, after thirty-one years of imprisonment and twenty-nine continuous years of solitary confinement, King walked out of the gates of Angola a free man.
From the moment of his release, he has worked tirelessly to spread word about the innocence and the continued plight of his two remaining comrades, both held in solitary confinement for thirty-six years. King has spoken at universities, conferences and other venues. He has made appearances on radio and television, traveled to seven foreign countries, and addressed members of the European Parliament. He has worked to win the release of his comrades, the release of all political prisoners, and an end to the new slavery that is the Prison Industrial Complex.
Upon his release King was quoted as saying, “I may be free from Angola, but Angola will never be free of me!”
by Marion Brown, former Black Panther and prison activist
Robert King on Democracy Now! February 28th, 2013
Robert King on Democracy Now! 2012
40 years to the day — since April 17, 1972, or 14,600 days ago — that Herman Wallace and Albert Woodfox have been held in solitary confinement in Louisiana. The state says they were guilty of murdering a guard at Angola Prison, but Wallace, Woodfox and their network of supporters say they were framed for their political activism as members of the Black Panthers. Woodfox and Wallace founded the Angola chapter of the Black Panther Party in 1971. A third prisoner, Robert King, joined them a year later. The three campaigned for better working conditions and racial solidarity between inmates, as well as an end to rape and sexual slavery.
(Robert King being interviewed with Terry Kupers on the Psychological Impact of Imprisonment from Angola3news)
The Outer Limits of Solidarity talk, given on April 6th, 2012 @ UC Hastings.
Angola 3 News has just released an edited, 24 minute video documenting the 2hr event held at UC Hastings on April 6, featuring Robert King and many other folks, talking about Mumia, where several photos from recent contact visits with him are presented.
In 1970, a jury convicted Robert Hillary King of a crime he did not commit and sentenced him to 35 years in prison. He became a member of the Black Panther Party while in Angola State Penitentiary, successfully organizing prisoners to improve conditions. In return, prison authorities beat him, starved him, and gave him life without parole after framing him for a second crime. He was thrown into solitary confinement, where he remained in a six by nine foot cell for 29 years as one of the Angola 3. In 2001, the state grudgingly acknowledged his innocence and set him free. This is his story.
It begins at the beginning: born black, born poor, born in Louisiana in1942, King journeyed to Chicago as a hobo at the age of 15. He married and had a child, and briefly pursued a semi-pro boxing career to help provide for his family. Just a teenager when he entered the Louisiana penal system for the first time, King tells of his attempts to break out of this system, and his persistent pursuit of justice where there is none.
Yet this remains a story of inspiration and courage, and the triumph of the human spirit. The conditions in Angola almost defy description, yet King never gave up his humanity, or the work towards justice for all prisoners that he continues to do today. From the Bottom of the Heap, so simply and humbly told, strips bare the economic and social injustices inherent in our society, while continuing to be a powerful literary testimony to our own strength and capacity to overcome.
"For a person to go through 29 years in one of the most brutal prisons in America and still maintain his sanity and humanity, that's what makes people want to listen to Robert." --Malik Rahim, Co-Founder of Common Ground Collective
"Friendships are forged in strange places. My friendship with Robert King and the other two Angola 3 men Herman Wallace and Albert Woodfox is based on respect. These men, as Robert reveals in this stunning account of his life, have fought tirelessly to redress injustice, not only for themselves, but for others. This is a battle Robert is determined to win and we are determined to help him." --Gordon Roddick, Co-founder of The Body Shop and activist
"When there is a train wreck, there is a public inquiry, to try to avoid it recurring. Robert King's conviction was a train wreck, and this book is perhaps the only way the world will get to understand why. There are more than 3,000 people serving life without the possibility of parole in Angola today, some as young as 14 when they were sent there, and many of them innocent but without the lawyer to prove it. We owe it to them, and others in a similar plight around the world, to read this book." --Clive Stafford Smith, Director, Reprieve
The Angola 3: Black Panthers and the Last Slave Plantation tells the gripping story of Robert King, Herman Wallace and Albert Woodfox, men who have endured solitary confinement longer than any known living prisoner in the United States. Politicized through contact with the Black Panther Party while inside Louisiana’s prisons, they formed one of the only prison Panther chapters in history and worked to organize other prisoners into a movement for the right to live like human beings. This feature length movie explores their extraordinary struggle for justice while incarcerated in Angola, a former slave plantation where institutionalized rape and murder made it known as one of the most brutal and racist prisons in the United States. The analysis of the Angola 3’s political work, and the criminal cases used to isolate and silence them, occurs within the context of the widespread COINTELPRO being carried out in the 1960’s and 70’s by the FBI and state law enforcement against militant voices for change.
In a partial victory, the courts exonerated Robert King of the original charges and released him in 2001; he continues the fight for the freedom of his two brothers. The ongoing campaign, which includes a civil case soon to come before the Supreme Court, is supported by people and organizations such as Amnesty International, the A.C.L.U., Harry Belafonte, Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield of Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream, Ramsey Clark, Sen. John Conyers, Sister Helen Prejean, (the late) Anita Roddick, Bishop Desmond Tutu and the ANC. Herman Wallace and Albert Woodfox have now endured as political prisoners in solitary confinement for over thirty-five years.
Narrated by Mumia Abu-Jamal, The Angola 3 features interviews with former Panthers, political prisoners and revolutionaries, including the Angola 3 themselves, and Bo Brown, Geronimo (ji Jaga) Pratt, Malik Rahim, Yuri Kochiyama, David Hilliard, Rod Coronado, Noelle Hanrahan, Kiilu Nyasha, Marion Brown, Luis Talamantez, Gail Shaw and many others. Portions of the proceeds go to support the Angola 3. Features the music of Truth Universal written by Tajiri Kamau.
Extras include: "Angola 3" music video for a song written and produced by Dave Stewart (of the Eurythmics) in support of the A3 featuring Saul Williams, Nadirah X, Asdru Sierra, Dana Glover, Tina Schlieske and Derrick Ashong. Directed by Robin Davey. Plus a trailer for the film which features outtakes not in the feature.
Black History Month message of hope from famed former Black Panther Robert Hillary King by Richard Burnett The Montreal Gazette February 19th, 2014
King, now 71, took some time this week to answer a few questions from POP TART.
POP TART: What kind of lessons / hope does your life story offer young black males who cannot escape the grind of poverty and racism?
RHK: My advice to those young folks would be to look at my story and take from that. I was arrested and thrown in prison, “biggomized” by the system, so to speak. I took that as encouragement, didn’t take it as being something should deter me from seeking [justice]. As an African-American, I also had to take a stand. I was at the bottom and had to scream the loudest just to people could hear me.
POP TART: Are you more compassionate or angrier person today?
RHK: The anger propels me. It doesn’t deter me from doing what I have to do. I’m angry over what the system did to me, but it’s not an anger to the point of bitterness. I’m angry enough to do something about it.
King has led a remarkable life: a hardscrabble childhood in and around New Orleans, a troubled adolescence, and a series of encounters with the justice system that led to several stints at Louisiana's Angola State Penitentiary. He radicalized while serving his third sentence, joining the Black Panther Party and agitating for improved conditions for prisoners. King was subsequently placed in solitary confinement, where he remained for the better part of three decades. The book is an important document of the failures of the justice system. Mumia Abu-Jamal's foreword attests to the gravity of these failures. However, King's own telling doesn't quite measure up to the story itself. His prose is loose and repetitive, particularly in the early chapters, so it sometimes difficult to keep tabs on people and events. The text is followed by a small collection of interviews and essays that prove engaging but haphazard, in keeping with the anecdotal bent of the autobiography. King's story is powerful, carefully observed, and deserves a wide audience, but such an incendiary topic requires greater precision in its telling.
A Black Panther's Fight for Freedom Behind Bars: A Black Panther's Life of Struggle By Janet Jamieson Youth Justice 2012 12: 77 DOI: 10.1177/1473225411435618a
Given the wide array of subject matter, this is a rich text that offers the reader a comprehensive insight into past and present developments in the field appealing to both academic and professional spheres. Practitioners should consider carefully how to incorporate elements of the material in their own work and be encouraged to discuss with their respective service the most appropriate and effective way to use a number of the assessment tools to promote consistent collaborative practice.
A Black Panther's Fight for Freedom Behind Bars: A Black Panther's Life of Struggle By Charles Morse Color Lines January 20, 2010
Mumia Abu-Jamal, Geronimo Pratt and Dhoruba bin Wahad: these are some of the best-known Black Panthers who have spent major portions of their lives confined within the state’s so-called “correctional” institutions.
Robert Hillary King—a member of the Angola 3, a trio of Black men incarcerated for decades in Louisiana’s Angola penitentiary for crimes that they did not commit—belongs to this grim fraternity. From the Bottom of the Heap (PM Press) recounts his journey from a youth of poverty and racism, to prison, to the Panthers, to release after 31 years of detention, including 29 in solitary.
A Hard-Won Freedom: From the Bottom of the Heap By Mel Motel WIN Magazine
I had the honor of spending some time with the only freed member of the Angola 3 in April 2009 when he swung through Vermont on his book tour. Starting softly, in front of an audience of 60, King grew in volume and intensity as he arrived at the focus of his talk: prisons as an extension of chattel slavery. His style was narrative and circular; he weaved in and out of events and concepts, blending past with present. The first two-thirds of From the Bottom of the Heap resemble this warm, sprawling narrative, mostly reflections on his childhood as he bounces from rural Louisiana to New Orleans, from grandmother to cops to train-hopping hobos.
Terms of Imprisonment By Stefan Christoff The Hour June 25, 2009
U.S. political prisoner Robert Hillary King tells his arresting tale in From the Bottom of the Heap
Imprisonment has certainly been a source for incredible literary works throughout the ages, with key memoirs of liberation leaders or rebel artists often scribed and shaped behind bars.
Today, over two million people are in U.S. prisons - the highest national incarceration rate in the world. Despite the massive numbers of prisoners in the world's stumbling superpower, prison literature is not a major thread within the American literary landscape, although prisons unquestionably play a key role in shaping U.S. society.
Presenting one’s memoir consciously as that of a former Black Panther Party member, even as simply a factual statement, is bound to bring any such book into some heady company. Think Assata Shakur’s Assata, George Jackson’s Blood in My Eye, Bobby Seale’s Seize the Time and nearly a dozen other autobiographies and biographies. And though From the Bottom of the Heap: The Autobiography Of Black Panther Robert Hillary King (nee Robert King Wilkerson) is no Soul On Ice (Eldridge Cleaver’s bubbling personal manifesto), King’s words percolate with the urgency and determination that made the Panthers once one of North America’s most revolutionary units.
The Angola 3: Torture in Our Own Back Yard By Hans Bennett Alternet
Together, Robert King, Albert Woodfox, and Herman Wallace have spent more than 100 years in solitary confinement.
"My soul cries from all that I witnessed and endured. It does more than cry, it mourns continuously," said Black Panther Robert Hillary King, following his release from the infamous Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola in 2001, after serving his last 29 years in continuous solitary confinement. King argues that slavery persists in Angola and other U.S. prisons, citing the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which legalizes slavery in prisons as "a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted." King says: "You can be legally incarcerated but morally innocent."
Le Confinement Solitaire: Un Traitemente Décrié By Éric Clément La Presse
Selon la direction de la prison d'Angola, il n'y a pas de confinement solitaire en Louisiane. « Il s'agit d'un vieux terme désuet », nous a dit la directrice-adjointe de la prison, Cathy Fontenot, qui maintient que, même maintenus en isolement, les prisonniers « peuvent se rencontrer et ont accès chaque jour au personnel, aux cadres de la prison et aux bénévoles ».
Robert King, qui a passé 29 ans dans ce qu'il considère comme du confinement solitaire, rétorque qu'un juge fédéral a déjà statué que ce type d'isolement était « cruel ».Amnisty International a condamné la pratique de confinement solitaire car elle est contraire aux droits de l'Homme et aux traités internationaux selon lesquels le confinement solitaire prolongé peut être comparé à de la torture et à un traitement inhumain et dégradant...
Angola 3: des Black Panthers demandent justice by Éric Clément La Presse
«À partir de quand une sentence de confinement solitaire en prison devient-elle inhumaine en regard de la faute ?»
C'est la question que se pose encore Robert King, sept ans après avoir été libéré de la prison d'Angola où il a passé 31 années de sa vie, dont 29 en isolement total dans une cellule individuelle de 2,70 par 1,80 m, sans fenêtre, avec un lit en ciment et une petite table, une cage dont il ne sortait qu'une heure par jour pour se doucher, dit-il. Et, ajoute-t-il, pour un crime que la justice a fini par admettre qu'il n'avait pas commis.Aujourd'hui âgé de 66 ans, le Black Panther vit à Austin, au Texas, où La Presse l'a rencontré. Il a dû quitter sa maison de La Nouvelle-Orléans, submergée par la crue de l'ouragan Katrina, en 2005.
Robert King fait partie avec Herman Wallace et Albert Woodfox, deux autres Black Panthers encore détenus à Angola, des «Angola 3», un trio bien connu en Louisiane pour prétendre depuis des années avoir été victime d'une énorme injustice....
From the Bottom of the Heap: The Autobiography of Black Panther Robert Hillary King San Francisco Bay View Wanda Sabir
In a march outside Angola State Prison, “Last Slave Plantation” is painted on the asphalt near the initials LSP for Louisiana State Penitentiary. Prison guards block the road, as signs wave demanding the release of the Angola 3: Albert Woodfox, Herman Wallace and Robert King Wilkerson. In February 2001, Robert King walks out a free man, all charges dropped.
Who would have known, who could have predicted this man’s life was destined to take the turns it did - not for any particular misdeed; rather, his captivity was based solely on prejudicial perceptions that labeled him and other Black, poor boys and men, then and now, unworthy, criminal....
Black Panther Robert Hillary King Tells His Story Tom Keyser Albany Times Union April 9, 2009
Robert Hillary King spent nearly three decades in solitary confinement at the notorious Angola state prison in Louisiana. As a member of the Black Panther Party, he and two party members became nationally known as the Angola 3 — political prisoners who spent decades in solitary confinement for, they contend, organizing prisoners to improve conditions.
"Solitary confinement is terrifying, especially if you are innocent of the charges that put you there," King writes. "My soul still cries from all that I witnessed and endured. ... So let's call prisons exactly what they are: an extension of slavery."
The Angola 3: Black Panthers and the Last Slave Plantation By William T. Armaline (Ph.D.) and Damian Bramlett Political Media Review
It is no secret that the United States does not hesitate to incarcerate. While the US only represents 5% of the global population, it cages nearly 25% of the world’s prisoners-approximately 2.3 million people. Of these 2.3 million people, approximately half are African American (13% of US population). Of course, the vastly disproportionate caging and state coercion of African Americans in the US has a long and brutal history. This bloody legacy is made manifest in prisons like Angola, named for the country from which many southern plantation slaves were abducted. The Angola 3: Black Panthers and the Last Slave Plantation details the history of not only Angola prison, but the broader struggle between the US police state and organizations like the Black Panthers over the rights and quality of life of African Americans in the US...
Narrated by Mumia Abu-Jamal, this is the story of Robert King Wilkerson, Herman Wallace and Albert Woodfox - men who have endured solitary confinement longer than any known prisoner in the US, and who formed one of the only prison chapters of the Black Panthers. Inside the notorious Angola prison - a former slave plantation where the only change since slavery is it’s classification, prisoners work under much the same conditions as the 1800’s, watched by mounted overseers with shotguns.
It is these images of a modern day plantation that hit the hardest, combined with first hand accounts of institutionalized rape and murder that keep the population in physical and psychological chains. The Angola 3’s victory is that in this environment of total oppression, they organized fellow prisoners into a movement for the right to live as human beings. Within the context of the COINTELPRO operations being carried out by the FBI in the 60’s and 70’s to silence radical voices, this achievement is nothing short of a miracle.
Through interviews with the 3, as well as original Black Panthers Geronimo Pratt, David Hilliard and others, the nature and scale of this struggle is revealed, and the down to earth humanity of all the members of the movement shines through. Although occasionally very dry in presentation - many of the interviews are on scratchy, penitentiary intercoms with only a photograph to accompany them - patience is rewarded with gems of wisdom and the indomitable spirit of true freedom fighters.
For those that don’t know, this film is an excellent introduction to one of the greatest social movements of the 20th century - The Black Panther party, an organization that had the American power structure shaking in it’s goose-stepping boots for over a decade until it was mercilessly crushed and nearly destoyed, it’s leaders assasinated and imprisoned, its true political aims obscured. Time to watch Huey P’s speeches on YouTube again kids.