From the Bottom of the Heap: The Autobiography of Black Panther Robert Hillary King
Author: Robert Hillary King • Introduction by Terry Kupers • Foreword by Mumia Abu-Jamal
Publisher: PM Press
Format: Hardcover and Paperback
Page count: 272
Size: 6 x 9
Subjects: Biography, Politics, Prison Abolition
In 1970, a jury convicted Robert Hillary King of a crime he did not commit and sentenced him to 35 years in prison. He became a member of the Black Panther Party while in Angola State Penitentiary, successfully organizing prisoners to improve conditions. In return, prison authorities beat him, starved him, and gave him life without parole after framing him for a second crime. He was thrown into solitary confinement, where he remained in a six-by-nine-foot cell for 29 years as one of the Angola 3. In 2001, the state grudgingly acknowledged his innocence and set him free. This is his story.
It begins at the beginning: born black, born poor, born in Louisiana in 1942, King journeyed to Chicago as a hobo at the age of 15. He married and had a child, and briefly pursued a semi-pro boxing career to help provide for his family. Just a teenager when he entered the Louisiana penal system for the first time, King tells of his attempts to break out of this system, and his persistent pursuit of justice where there is none.
Yet this remains a story of inspiration and courage, and the triumph of the human spirit. The conditions in Angola almost defy description, yet King never gave up his humanity, or the work towards justice for all prisoners that he continues to do today. From the Bottom of the Heap, so simply and humbly told, strips bare the economic and social injustices inherent in our society, while continuing to be a powerful literary testimony to our own strength and capacity to overcome. The paperback edition includes additional writings from Robert King and an update on the case of the Angola 3.
“For a person to go through 29 years in one of the most brutal prisons in America and still maintain his sanity and humanity, that’s what makes people want to listen to Robert.”
—Malik Rahim Cofounder of Common Ground Collective
“Friendships are forged in strange places. My friendship with Robert King and the other two Angola 3 men Herman Wallace and Albert Woodfox is based on respect. These men, as Robert reveals in this stunning account of his life, have fought tirelessly to redress injustice, not only for themselves, but for others. This is a battle Robert is determined to win and we are determined to help him.”
—Gordon Roddick, Co-founder of The Body Shop and activist
“When there is a train wreck, there is a public inquiry, to try to avoid it recurring. Robert King’s conviction was a train wreck, and this book is perhaps the only way the world will get to understand why. There are more than 3,000 people serving life without the possibility of parole in Angola today, some as young as 14 when they were sent there, and many of them innocent but without the lawyer to prove it. We owe it to them, and others in a similar plight around the world, to read this book.”
—Clive Stafford Smith, Director, Reprieve
“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.”
“Told in a straightforward manner, this gripping tale has humor and all the innocence of a child’s voice, a more mature young man’s, evolving finally into the voice of an adult trying to plant his flag in ripe soil to claim a piece of the planet for himself and his kin. Unlike Ralph Ellison’s protagonist, King doesn’t evaporate or melt into the darkness. He fights, he yells, he refuses to take the beatings, whether ideologically or physically. He never gives up hope.”
—San Francisco Bay View
“Three aspects of this book make it accessible and applicable: King’s aptitude for storytelling—non-linear, conversational, straightforward, and insightful—his eventual explanation of the Black Panther Party’s significance and power, and the details of his own legal battles fought from behind prison bars, specifically the appeal that led to his release in 2001 after 29 years of solitary confinement in Angola State Penitentiary, a/k/a ‘The Last Slave Plantation.’”
About the Contributors:
From the moment of his release, he has worked tirelessly to spread word about the innocence and the continued plight of his two remaining comrades, both held in solitary confinement for forty years. Robert Hillary King has spoken at universities, conferences, and other venues. He has made appearances on radio and television, traveled to seven foreign countries, and addressed members of the European Parliament. He has worked to win the release of his comrades, the release of all political prisoners, and an end to the new slavery that is the Prison Industrial Complex.
Terry A. Kupers, M.D., M.S.P. is Institute Professor at The Wright Institute, a Distinguished Life Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association and besides practicing psychiatry at his office in Oakland, he consults to various public mental health centers and jail mental health services.
Mumia Abu-Jamal was convicted and sentenced to death for the 1981 murder of a police officer. Prior to his arrest he was a Black Panther Party activist, cab driver, and journalist. Since his conviction, his case has received international attention and he has become a controversial cultural icon. During his imprisonment he has published several books including Live from Death Row.
See and hear author interviews, book reviews, and other news on Robert Hillary King's page HERE
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