Robert Hillary King
|Robert Hillary King|
Robert Hillary King at the Left Forum
New York City, 2009
Robert Hillary King (born May 30, 1942), also known as Robert King Wilkerson, is a former member of the Black Panther Party who spent 32 years in Angola Prison, Louisiana – 29 of them in solitary confinement.
King first entered Angola at the age of 18 as the result of an armed 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 along with one of his acquaintances on charges of robbery. After being held in jail for over 11 months, King's acquaintance – a man called "Boogie" – accepted a plea bargain and was released on time served. Simultaneously, the District Attorney dropped the charges against King — but he was not released because he had been arrested with an admitted felon, which was deemed a parole violation. King was sent back to Angola prison where he served 15 months and was released again in January 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 and participating in non-violent hunger strikes.
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.
Since his release, 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 candymaking has become the most requested story that the Kitchen Sisters have ever produced for NPR. It is still played on stations all across the US.
Following the destruction that beset the city of New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, King pitched in when Scott Crow, Brandon Darby and Malik Rahim began organizing the Common Ground Collective.
He is an international speaker who speaks at college campuses and community centers across the US and has spoken before the Parliaments in the Netherlands, South Africa and Portugal. On 1 December 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)
- Sabir, Wanda, 'Review - From the Bottom of the Heap: The Autobiography of Black Panther Robert Hillary King, San Francisco Bay View, November 18, 2008.
- King, Robert (2012). From the Bottom of the Heap: The Autobiography of Black Panther Robert Hillary King. PM Press. p. 147. ISBN 9781604865752.
- King, Robert (2012). From the Bottom of the Heap: The Autobiography of Black Panther Robert Hillary King. PM Press. p. 143. ISBN 9781604865752.
- King, Robert (2012). From the Bottom of the Heap: The Autobiography of Black Panther Robert Hillary King. PM Press. p. 145. ISBN 9781604865752.
- King, Robert (2012). From the Bottom of the Heap: The Autobiography of Black Panther Robert Hillary King. PM Press. p. 151. ISBN 9781604865752.
- King, Robert (2012). From the Bottom of the Heap: The Autobiography of Black Panther Robert Hillary King. PM Press. p. 178. ISBN 9781604865752.