Robert Hillary King
Robert Hillary King
Robert Hillary King at the Left Forum
New York City, 2009
Robert Hillary King
May 30, 1942
|Other names||Speedy King|
|Known for||Angola 3|
Robert Hillary King (born May 30, 1942), also known as Robert King Wilkerson, is an American known as one of the Angola Three, former prisoners who were held at Louisiana State Penitentiary in solitary confinement for decades after being convicted in 1973 of prison murders.
Initially held at Angola after being convicted of armed robbery, King served a total of 32 years there, 29 of them in solitary. His conviction was overturned on appeal in 2001, and a new trial was ordered. The state indicted him again and he accepted a plea deal for lower charges, in exchange for time served, rather than go through another trial. He was released in 2001.
King has consistently maintained his innocence in the prison murder. He was among the co-founders of the Angola chapter of the Black Panther Party. With Albert Woodfox and the late Herman Wallace, also former Black Panthers, he is known as one of the Angola 3, men who were held for decades in solitary confinement at Angola.
King was born on 30 May 1942 in Gonzales, Louisiana to Hillary Wilkerson and Clara Mae King. He grew up in New Orleans. He had an older sister, Mary (born 1940), who died around the 1960s, and a younger sister, Ella Mae. They lived in a poor neighborhood in New Orleans, where he became involved in petty crime as a youth, and learned to fear police.
Criminal activity and charges
King has admitted to being involved in petty crime as a youth, but says that he was innocent of his first major conviction: for armed robbery. He was sentenced to 35 years and first held at Orleans Parish Prison, where he first met Albert Woodfox. The latter man was also convicted of armed robbery, and was sentenced to 50 years. After being held at the parish prison, King was sent to Angola, which he entered at the age of 18.
Granted parole in 1965, at the age of 22, King returned to New Orleans. He married a woman name Clara and began a brief semi-pro boxing career under the nickname of "Speedy King". Several weeks prior to the birth of his son, King was one of two suspects arrested on charges of robbery. After being held in jail for over 11 months, King's acquaintance, known as "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. His having been arrested in the company of a now admitted felon (Boogie, since his plea deal), was deemed a parole violation. King was returned to Angola prison, where he served 15 months before being released on parole again in January 1969.
King was later arrested again on robbery charges, and was convicted. His co-defendant on these charges testified that he had picked King out of a mug shot lineup only after being tortured by police into making a false statement. King appealed his conviction. While being held at Orleans Parish Prison, he escaped, but was re-captured weeks later.
Upon being returned to Orleans Parish Prison in 1971, King met some of the twelve Black Panther Party members who had been arrested after armed 1970 confrontations with police in September and November 1970. Law enforcement was trying to expel them from their headquarters near a housing project. They had established breakfast and education programs there. A bystander was killed by police, and the twelve Panthers were charged with attempted murder. They were acquitted by a jury. King became radicalized and worked with the Panthers; they organized and participated in non-violent hunger strikes at the prison in an effort to improve conditions.
In 1972, officials moved King from the parish prison to Angola to serve the remainder of his sentence. It was shortly after the stabbing death there of prison guard Brent Miller. King allied with the Black Panthers. Upon arrival at the prison, on the 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 in the Closed Correction Cell (CCR) unit, where he was held until his 2001 release. In 1973, King was charged with murdering another prisoner, and was convicted. At the trial, he was bound and gagged. After he had maintained his innocence for years and appealed, his conviction was overturned in 2001.
The state re-indicted him for the murder and said they would retry King on these charges. He accepted a plea bargain of lesser charges and was released, as he had already served more time than the sentence at the lower charges.
Since his release, Robert King has worked as a speaker on prison reform and the justice system. He has been featured in numerous print, media and film articles and interviews worldwide including: CNN, National Public Radio, NBC, BBC and ITN. He appeared in two documentaries about him and his fellow prisoners in long-term solitary: Angola 3: Black Panthers and the Last Slave Plantation and Land of the Free (2010). He also provided continuing support to Wallace and Woodfox in prison.
His autobiography, From the Bottom of the Heap: The Autobiography of a Black Panther (2008), was released by PM Press. He won a PASS Award for his book in 2009 from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.
In prison, King started making pralines while in solitary confinement, gathering ingredients from other prisoners and guards. The story of his candymaking in prison has become the most requested story that the Kitchen Sisters have produced for NPR. He calls his pralines "freelines," with funds used to support his activism. He sells them from his website.
Following the destruction throughout the poorest areas of New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, King pitched in with local activists to organize communities and provide aid. Local activist Malik Rahim, and Scott Crow and Brandon Darby, both from Texas, co-founded the Common Ground Collective to provide assistance and medical care to local residents left destitute after the storm.
King has spoken internationally against the use of solitary confinement and on behalf of Wallace and Woodfox while they were still imprisoned. He has spoken at college campuses and community centers across the US, and before the Parliaments in the Netherlands, South Africa and Portugal. On 1 December 2010, King was invited as the inaugural speaker at TEDxAlcatraz in San Francisco, delivering a talk entitled "Alone".
- NPR Hidden Kitchens series
- "Angola 3: 36 Years of Solitude" series, Mother Jones
- Angola 3, National Public Radio
- Alternet article on the Angola 3
- TEDxAlcatraz - Robert King - "Alone"
- "Black Panther Robert King", Interview by Thorne Dreyer, June 22, 2010, Rag Radio (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.
- "Review: 'From the Bottom of the Heap'", San Francisco Bay View, 18 November 2018
- King 2012, p. 15.
- King 2012, p. 16.
- Erwin James, "37 years of solitary confinement: the Angola three", The Guardian, 10 March 2010; accessed 7 March 2019
- King 2012, p. 147.
- King 2012, p. 143.
- King 2012, p. 145.
- King 2012, p. 151.
- "1971: Black Panthers acquitted after tangle with New Orleans police", The Times Picayune, 15 December 2011; accessed 9 March 2011
- King 2012, p. 178.
- King, Robert Hillary (2012). From the Bottom of the Heap: The Autobiography of Black Panther Robert Hillary King. PM Press. ISBN 9781604865752.