January 20, 2010
A BLACK PANTHER’S LIFE OF STRUGGLE
Mumia Abu-Jamal, Geronimo Pratt and Dhoruba bin Wahad: these are some of the best-known Black Panthers who have spent major portions of their lives confined within the state’s so-called “correctional” institutions.
Robert Hillary King—a member of the Angola 3, a trio of Black men incarcerated for decades in Louisiana’s Angola penitentiary for crimes that they did not commit—belongs to this grim fraternity. From the Bottom of the Heap (PM Press) recounts his journey from a youth of poverty and racism, to prison, to the Panthers, to release after 31 years of detention, including 29 in solitary.
King uses his own history to show how the racial and economic hierarchies in mid-20th century Louisiana condemned most Black people to lives of insecurity and fear.
King’s major incarceration began in 1970. A growing political awareness and an encounter with imprisoned Panthers prompted him to join the Party and help organize its only recognized prison chapter.
Falsely convicted of killing a guard, King was placed in solitary. Although he writes little about these years, he tells us that his political convictions enabled him to survive.
Freed in 2001, he emerged with a deepened dedication to change. His memoir is among his many post-release efforts, along with his work on behalf of Albert Woodfox and Herman Wallace, the other two members of the Angola 3, who are still in prison.