March 1, 2001
WILKERSON OF ANGOLA 3 RELEASED
By Greg Butterfield
After 29 years in solitary confinement, one of the Angola 3
political prisoners is free.
Fifty-eight-year-old Robert King Wilkerson walked out of
Louisiana's Angola State Penitentiary on Feb. 8. He was
welcomed with cheers and hugs from supporters and family
Wilkerson pledged to dedicate his life to winning freedom
for his Angola 3 brothers, Albert Woodfox and Herman
Wallace. All three are African Americans.
"I may be free of Angola," he said, "but Angola will never
be free of me."
In 1971 Woodfox and Wallace founded a prison chapter of the
Black Panther Party. They were determined to build an
organized resistance to brutal conditions and racism in the
prison. Wilkerson joined their effort the next year.
The Angola Panthers campaigned for better working
conditions, solidarity between Black and white prisoners,
and an end to the sexual degradation of prisoners encouraged
by prison officials.
Mumia Abu-Jamal, the Black freedom fighter on Pennsylvania's
death row, gave a chilling description of the prison's
"If ever there was any question of the slave parentage of
the American prison system, one glance at the massive
penitentiary known as Angola in steamy Louisiana removes all
doubt," he wrote.
"Once a group of slave plantations, it earned its name from
the southwest African kingdom which was colonized by the
Portuguese in the 1600s.
"It was from this region of Africa that a majority of Black
slaves were taken in chains to people Louisiana's rice
plantations," Abu-Jamal explained, "and it is here, Angola,
where the state concentrated its penitentiary and its
attempt to stifle righteous Black resistance to racist
The resistance of the Black Panthers was more than Angola's
modern-day overseers could take. In 1972 Woodfox and Wallace
were convicted of murdering a prison guard. In 1973
Wilkerson was convicted of killing a fellow prisoner--even
though another prisoner confessed and was also convicted.
All three political activists were put in solitary
confinement. Through the decades they have always maintained
PRISONERS SAY THEY WERE COERCED
Last year the state's case against Wilkerson collapsed. The
two prisoners who testified against him retracted their
testimony and said prison officials had coerced them.
In December the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued a
ruling that seemed likely to overturn Wilkerson's
In what Angola 3 supporters are calling a face-saving
measure, state prosecutors then offered Wilkerson a plea
bargain. He accepted and was released six hours later.
Abu-Jamal has called the Angola Panthers "political
prisoners of the highest caliber who deserve your support."
In the wake of Wilkerson's release, Angola 3 supporters are
calling for a stepped-up campaign to free Woodfox and
Two important lawsuits are pending in their cases.
The first is an appeal by Wallace, filed in Louisiana state
courts last September. The appeal presents evidence to show
how the state suppressed proof of his innocence and how
witnesses were bribed and coerced by prison officials.
The other, a civil-rights lawsuit filed by the American
Civil Liberties Union, charges that the Angola 3's longtime
solitary confinement is a violation of the constitutional
protection against cruel and unusual punishment.
For more information, readers can call the National
Coalition to Free the Angola 3 at (510) 655-8770 or visit
the Website www.prisonactivist.org/angola.
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