Robert Hillary King
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|Robert Hillary King|
Robert Hillary King at the Left Forum
New York City, 2009
Robert Hillary King, also known as Robert King Wilkerson, is a former member of the Black Panther Party who spent 32 years, 29 of them in solitary confinement, in Angola Prison, Louisiana. King first entered Angola at the age of 18 as the result of a robbery conviction. In his book, From the Bottom of the Heap: The Autobiography of Robert Hillary King, King admits to some non-violent burglaries in the period prior to this conviction but maintains his innocence with regard to that particular offense and goes further by denying any culpability in any later convictions. Granted parole in 1965, at the age of 22, he returned to New Orleans, got married, and began a brief semi-pro boxing career nicknamed “Speedy King.” Several weeks prior to the birth of his son, by wife Clara, King was arrested on charges of robbery. After being held in jail for over 11 months, King's friend[who?] pled guilty to a lesser charge and was released on time served. Simultaneously, the District Attorney dropped the charges against King, but he was not released since his arrest, coupled with his friend’s guilty plea, was deemed a parole violation. King was sent back to Angola prison where he served 15 months and was released again in 1969.
Upon his release, King was again arrested on robbery charges, and was convicted, even though his co-defendant testified that he had only picked King out of a mug shot lineup after being tortured by police into making a false statement. King appealed, and while being held at Orleans Parish Prison, he escaped, but was re-captured weeks later. Upon returning to Orleans Parish he met some of the New Orleans 12—BPP members arrested after a confrontation with police at a housing project. He was radicalized and worked with the Panthers organizing non-violent hunger strikes, and engaging in self-defense against violent attacks from prison authorities.
In 1972, King moved to Angola shortly after the death of prison guard Brent Miller. Upon arrival, on grounds that King “wanted to play lawyer for another inmate,” he was immediately put into solitary confinement: first in the “dungeon,” then the “Red Hat”, and finally to the Closed Correction Cell (CCR) unit, where he remained until his 2001 release. In 1973, King was accused of murdering another prisoner, and was convicted at a trial where he was bound and gagged. After years of maintaining his innocence and appealing, his conviction was overturned in 2001.
King and the two co-founders of the Angola chapter of the Black Panther Party (Albert Woodfox and Herman Wallace), among which Woodfox is still incarcerated, comprise what their supporters have dubbed the Angola 3. Herman Wallace was released on October 1, 2013, and died on October 4, 2013. Much has been written about these men and their controversial cases in the media world wide. Albert Woodfox and Herman Wallace are the longest-held prisoners in solitary isolation (or closed cell restriction) in the United States. Ranking U.S. Congressman John Conyers and Louisiana Representative Cedric Richmond have called for inquiries into their confinement. The Angola 3 have a civil suit pending (Wilkerson, Woodfox and Wallace vs The State of Louisiana et al.), a case which the Supreme Court of the United States has ruled has merit to proceed, based on claims that their 'solitary isolation' is a violation of the Eighth Amendment of their rights against "cruel and unusual punishment" under the United States Constitution. This civil suit will go to trial any month in Baton Rouge, at the U.S. Middle District Court.
Robert King has been featured in numerous print, media and film articles and interviews worldwide including: CNN, National Public Radio, NBC, BBC and ITN as well as two films, Angola 3: Black Panthers and the Last Slave Plantation and Land of the Free, among others.
His autobiography, From the Bottom of the Heap: The Autobiography of a Black Panther, was released by PM Press in the fall of 2008. He won a PASS Award from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency for his book in 2009. King now makes a type of pralines, which he calls freelines, to support his activism, which he does by selling them from his website. He made pralines in prison while in solitary confinement. He burned paper in soda cans to cook the candies and gathered ingredients from other prisoners and guards.The story of his candy making has become the most requested story that the Kitchen Sisters have ever produced for N.P.R. It is still played on stations all across the U.S. Following the destruction that beset the city of New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, King pitched in when Scott Crow and Malik Rahim began organizing the Common Ground Collective. He is an international speaker who speaks at college campuses and community centers across the U.S. and has spoken before the Parliaments in the Netherlands, South Africa and Portugal. On December 1, 2010 King spoke at TEDxAlcatraz in San Francisco delivering a talk entitled "Alone".
- NPR Hidden Kitchens series
- Mother Jones "Angola 3: 36 Years of Solitude" series
- National Public Radio, Peabody Award-Winning Series on the Angola 3
- Alternet article on the Angola 3
- TEDxAlcatraz - Robert King - Alone
- Black Panther Robert King on Rag Radio Interview by Thorne Dreyer, June 22, 2010 (58:01)