Updated: Feb 9
Do you know what today is?
It’s His Freedomversary⛓
Happy Freedom Date Robert H. King
On this day February 8, 2001
20 Years ago...
Robert King Wilkerson A.K.A. Robert H. King was released from Angola State Prison after serving 31 years in prison, 29 of those in solitary confinement.
Below is (His~Story) History.....
Angola 3 Archives ~ Robert H. King & Marion Brown Of (New Orleans NCCF~BPP Chapter).
Free At Last
Robert H. King & Angola 3 Supporters Campaigning & Peacefully Demonstrating For Herman Wallace & Albert Woodfox Freedom...
~Front Gate Of Angola State Prison.
I May Be Free Of Angola But...
Angola Will Never Be Free Of Me!!!
Robert King Wilkerson — social activist and member of the black panthers — recounts a tale of tears that began 35 years ago on the streets of New Orleans. Angola 3 Archives ~ Robert H. King
Free At Last
Curated By: Richard A. Webster & Orissa Arend.
Robert King Wilkerson speaks in low, hushed tones when he recounts his story. It’s a tale he has told thousands of times to thousands of people throughout the world.
In 1972, Wilkerson entered solitary confinement in Angola Prison at the age of 30 for a crime he says he did not commit. He spent the next 29 years trapped in a. 6-foot by 9-foot cell — 23 hours inside the cell a day and one hour out, if he was lucky. He says he endured savage beatings by his “keepers” and withstood psychological torture while watching many of his fellow inmates descend into madness.
Yet, somehow his story of personal struggle has become a story of a nation and city struggling to overcome an era.
As his life faded into the cracked, gray cell walls, Wilkerson’s plight and that of his two tier-mates, Herman Wallace and Albert Woodfox, became an international cause. The trio were believed to be wrongfully convicted and unlawfully held in solitary confinement for longer than most political prisoners in modern history. The three entered prison on unrelated robbery changes but quickly joined the prisoners’ rights movement in the late 1960s and became known as the Angola 3. In the ensuing years, the men continued their activism from solitary confinement, organizing hunger strikes and educating prisoners. They even became highly skilled jailhouse lawyers.
The Angola 3 were believed to be targets of an all-white prison administration; made examples for their beliefs and activism. Even today, the American Civil Liberties Union is pursuing a federal lawsuit, alleging the men’s stay in solitary confinement, is unconstituional, cruel and unusual punishment.
Wilkerson says during those 29 dark years, he found salvation and strength in the truth and principles of the Black Panther Party. “I made a vow to myself that no matter what, I would do my best to live out this truth, even in solitary confinement,” says Wilkerson. “I told myself no matter where one resided in American, whether in minimum or maximum security, the struggle must continue. Though I was released three years ago, I never say I am free. No one in this country is truly free.” How Wilkerson became a member of the “Angola 3” and the Black Panther Party is a part of New Orleans history long forgotten and little discussed. It began 35 years ago when a newly formed Black Panther chapter took up residence in a house on Piety Street bordering the Desire Housing Development. When the Panthers arrived in New Orleans, the city was thick with racial tension, says Bill Rouselle who, as then-deputy director of the city’s human relations committee, was responsible for dealing with race relations. “We still had vestiges of segregation. How the Panthers were viewed depended on a person’s income and status,” he says. “Poor folks saw them as something positive because they were providing their children with breakfast before school. The rest of the people saw them as a radical group. They represented a very aggressive movement and that scared a lot of white folks.”
Louisiana native Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale formed the Black Panther Party for Self Defense in Oakland, Calif., in 1966. At the time parts of the South continued to fight desegregation, often with violence. Newton and Seale looked at the assassination of Malcolm X, the burning streets in Watts, Calif., and the increasing death toll in Vietnam and decided passive resistance was futile. They spoke of revolution and chose a black panther as their symbol.
In 1968, FBI director J. Edgar Hoover described the Black Panthers as the “greatest threat to the internal security of the United States.” In New Orleans, the arrival of the Black Panther Party was not treated lightly. When the Panthers refused to vacate the Piety Street property, the New Orleans Police Department moved in.
In Orissa Arend’s book, “Showdown in Desire: The Story of the Black Panthers in New Orleans,” Panther Malik Rahim described the scene. “The police came in busloads. They got in their positions and just started shooting. They shot up the office maybe 20 minutes straight. It seemed like it was all day. I said, boy, they gonna kill us.” Miraculously, nobody was hurt. The police arrested 12 Black Panthers barricaded inside the building and sent them to the Orleans Parish Prison, where Wilkerson watched the event on television.
In February 1970, three months before the arrival of the Black Panther Party in New Orleans, police arrested Wilkerson for the armed robbery of an Uptown supermarket. Wilkerson admits to being in trouble for the majority of his young life but says he did not commit this crime. The description of the perpetrator did not even fit, he says.
A jury found him guilty and gave him 35 years of hard labor at Angola. He was given an additional eight years after organizing a successful escape with 25 fellow inmates.
While appealing his conviction Wilkerson sat in the C-3 tier of Orleans Parish Prison where he met Panthers from Piety Street. It proved to be a life-altering moment.
“After being unjustly arrested and convicted I was ripe for the Panthers,” Wilkerson says. “It was time for me to take a different perspective on what America was all about. I lost all sense of responsibility to the system. I had begun to see that black people had no real freedom and, for that matter, people in general had no real freedom.”
Wilkerson and the Panthers organized rallies to protest conditions within the parish prison, which he says had feces-infested water streaming through the halls and where inmates were forced to fight for meals with dog-like rats creeping up through the sewer grates.
As the protests in prison escalated to the point where the Panthers on the C-1 tier held two guards hostage, conditions outside had deteriorated into an armed standoff. After the Piety Street shootout, the Black panthers moved into an abandoned building in the Desire Housing Development. Mayor Moon Landrieu and police chief Clarence Giarusso wanted the Panthers out. Fearing a bloodbath in the face of police pressure, they sent five clergymen to negotiate.
In Arend’s book, Father Jerome LeDoux describes the inside of the Panther headquarters as a fortress with “window-high sandbagged walls, scores of grenades, dozens of assault rifles and numbers bandoleers of ammunition occupying most of the space of the floors of both stories.”
LeDoux and the clergymen pleaded with the Panthers to come out peacefully but they refused. They said for every Panther the police killed there would be 10 young men and women from Desire ready to take their place.
The five clergymen walked out the door convinced it would be the last time they would see any of the Black Panthers alive.
On Nov. 19, 1970, just two months after the Piety Street shootout, 250 white, riot-geared police officers, accompanied by an armored tank, marched into Desire. The massacre everyone feared, it seemed, was about to become reality.
As police officers and Panthers trained their weapons on each other, thousands of Desire residents placed themselves in between the two warring factions. Their message to police was simple: To kill the Panthers you are going to have to kill every single one of us first. The intensity of the situation increased when word got out that a few Black Panthers had positioned themselves amidst the crowd, armed with fragmentation grenades, ready to pull the pins should police advance.
The standoff lasted through the day until Giarusso told his men to stand down. The police retreated, and the Desire community celebrated. “It was pandemonium. It was beautiful,” says Marion Brown, a former Black Panther. “It was the first time I had ever seen people willing to die for a cause. We felt like we had won something.”
From inside Orleans Parish Prison, Wilkerson heard of the victory. In less than a year, he would be sipped to Angola — then the bloodiest prison in the nation — where the guards administered beatings at will, without the threat of retribution.
“These people could take your life at any moment,” Wilkerson says. “Any officer, any free man, young or old, could come to work, kill a prisoner, and nothing would happen. The warden would come to my cell and say they already had a hole dug in the graveyard waiting for me. I just laughed at him.”
The crackdown on the Black Panthers in Angola was part of a directive that came straight from the FBI, Wilkerson says. “The idea was to incarcerate, incriminate, eliminate, kill and frame. And the states mimicked this strategy. If there was a Panther in prison, they did whatever they could to keep them in prison, and that’s what happened to me.”
On June 10, 1973, an inmate in Wilkerson’s tier stabbed another inmate to death. The prison charged Wilkerson and tier-mate Grady Brewer with the murder.
The ensuing trial took place in St. Francisville where the judge ordered Wilkerson and Brewer to appear before the jury handcuffed, shackled and gagged with duct tape. Despite Brewer’s admission to committing the murder alone and in self-defense, the jury found Wilkerson guilty and sentenced him to life without the possibility of parole.
“This was all part of the plan to demonize the Panthers,” Wilkerson says. “They feared us because we were having a large influence among white people. So they decided to destroy us.”
Outside Angola’s walls, the Black Panther Party was slowly imploding, Brown says. In 1972, central command pulled the majority of its national membership to Oakland to work on Seale’s mayoral campaign. The decision decimated the regional offices including the one in New Orleans.
After Brown left the party, she says she became apolitical. “There is a certain amount of post-traumatic stress disorder that comes with being in that type of organization and going through that type of harassment by the FBI on a daily basis. They used to call my mom and say I was dead in an alley. It burned a lot of us out and it wasn’t uncommon for people to do nothing when they got out.”
After 25 years in California, Brown, now divorced, decided to return to New Orleans. When she arrived, she was shocked to hear Wilkerson, Woodfox, and Wallace remained in Angola. “I just assumed they would have gotten out. But central command decided to use its resources to defend only the top guys. This left everybody hanging, which is why there are so many Panthers still incarcerated from that era. It was around this time when I became involved again.” Wilkerson never lost hope during the nearly three decades he spent in solitary. Instead of giving into the tragedy of his surroundings, Wilkerson fed on it like a vampire.
“I know it sounds bad but seeing them break other prisoners only made me stronger. I saw what they did to people who went insane. They had no respect for them. They might dislike you or hate you if you’re a rebel but they respect you more. But if you go insane they say, ‘We done broke him.’ That way they win and I wasn’t going to let them win.” In 1987 Wilkerson received an affidavit and notarized statement from two inmates who testified against him in the stabbing death of the Angola inmate. Both admitted they did not witness the crime and professed Wilkerson’s innocence.
Fourteen years later, after repeated attempts to clear his name, Wilkerson got his day in court. The state agreed to release Wilkerson if he pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit murder. He refused at first, but on the urging of Woodfox and Wallace, who believed his release could only help their cases, Wilkerson reluctantly entered a guilty plea.
At 4:12 p.m. on Feb. 8, 2001, Wilkerson walked out of Angola. The world he knew had disappeared; the Black Panther Party long dissolved and its legacy all but whitewashed from history. But in Wilkerson’s eyes, the struggle remained.
It would have been easy for Wilkerson to revel in his freedom, to use the 29 years he spent in solitary as an excuse to give up on the struggle. Shortly after Wilkerson was freed, he returned to Angola, the last place in the world he says he wanted to see again. But he returned because he left behind people who needed his help. The thought of abandoning the principles of the Black Panther Party never crossed his mind. What kept him sane during those years is what inspires him to fight for those still suffering.
Wilkerson now lives in a small house in Mid-City with Brown. Since his release, he has traveled the world, fighting the growing “prison industrial complex” and for the release of the wrongfully incarcerated. He speaks at colleges and universities and rallies held by Critical Resistance, an organization decided to challenge the belief that “caging and controlling people” makes the world safer. In New Orleans, he helped form the Anti-Violence Coordinating Committee to help stop violence and increase peace, using lessons from the Black Panthers who lived in New Orleans in 1970 and 1971.
“When I left Angola I said that I was free of Angola but Angola would never be free of me. I would be a thorn in its side and since that time that’s exactly what I’ve been.”
ROBERT KING WILKERSON A.K.A. ROBERT H. KING IS FREE!
Chronicles of Angola 3 & Kingyatta~
Stay Tuned “Remain On this Globe•Trot With Robert H. King“ He Have Much More In-Store!
His Voyage Continues......
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