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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, was a member of the Black Panther Party who spent 32 years in Angola Prison,, 29 of them in solitary confinement. King first entered Angola at the age of 18, for a robbery conviction. In his book, "From the Bottom of the Heap: The Autobiography of Robert Hillary King" he admits to doing some non-violent burglaries at the time, but maintains his innocence regarding this conviction and every one since. Granted parole in 1965, at the age of 22, he returned to New Orleans, got married, and began a brief semi-pro boxing career as “Speedy King.” He was then arrested on charges of robbery, just weeks before his wife Clara gave birth to their son. After being held for over 11 months, his friend pled guilty to a lesser charge and was released on time served. Simultaneously, the DA dropped the charges against King, but he was not released, because his arrest, coupled with his friend’s guilty plea was deemed a parole violation. Therefore, King was sent back to Angola where he served 15 months and was released again in 1969.

Upon 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 New 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, after he reluctantly pled guilty to a lesser charge of “conspiracy to commit murder” and was released on time served.

King and the two co-founders of the Angola chapter of the Black Panther Party who are still incarcerated (Albert Woodfox and Herman Wallace), comprise what their supporters have dubbed the Angola 3. Much has been written about these men and their controversial cases in the media world wide. Albert Woodfox and Herman Wallace to date (2009])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 many 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. 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.


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