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Albert Woodfox Dies of COVID; Loved Ones Remember the Life & Legacy of Famed Political Prisoner

StoryAugust 05, 2022
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We speak with Michael Mable about the life and legacy of his brother, Black Panther activist and political prisoner Albert Woodfox. Woodfox spent nearly 44 years in solitary confinement at the Louisiana State Penitentiary after he was wrongly convicted of murdering a prison guard. Woodfox’s conviction was overturned for the third time in 2013, and he was eventually released in 2016. “His legacy was based upon change,” says Mable. “He was a free man, and he’s free now.” We also speak with his fellow “Angola 3” member Robert King and Woodfox’s longtime attorney Carine Williams. “He understood his reasoning for existing,” says King on Woodfox’s legacy. “He won’t be forgotten.”

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, as we continue to remember the life and legacy of Albert Woodfox, the former Black Panther, who spent nearly 44 years in solitary confinement — longer than any prisoner in U.S. history. He died of COVID-19 at the age of 75 on Thursday, six years after he was freed from the Angola prison in Louisiana.

We’re joined now by three guests. Robert King was imprisoned with Albert Woodfox for decades at Angola. The two of them and the late Herman Wallace were known as the Angola 3. Carine Williams is with us from Middlesex, New Jersey. She’s one of Albert Woodfox’s longtime attorneys. And in New Orleans, we’re joined by Albert Woodfox’s brother Michael Mable.

Michael, let’s begin with you. Deepest, deepest condolences. You were with your brother when he died yesterday in the hospital in New Orleans. And you’re in the studio where — well, in a studio, we interviewed you in New Orleans a few days after Albert was released from prison in 2016. You were again at your brother’s side as you were receiving him when he was freed. Can you share your thoughts about Albert, about his life and his legacy?

MICHAEL MABLE: Well, you know, his legacy was based upon change, and no matter what they needed to do and bring about change. You know, one of the things that we lived for, as myself, running, visiting with him for 40 years, you know, he would teach me, and I would let him know things that was going out. So, you know, I told him way back when I was a juvenile that at that point in time, when I was able to become a young man, that I would visit with him and be with him until — you know, ’til death do us part. And I made a solely vow, and I continues to honor that vow that his legacy go on.

So, you know, his body is gone, but I want his voice to be spoken to the world and continues. And he’s speaking through me now to let us know that we can’t stop. You know, there’s a lot of change need to be done, and, you know, whatever we can do. And that’s my plight, is to continue to do what he would want done. And I promised him in that. So, it was kind of hard, but it only strengthened me. And I just want to keep his legacy going. And I just want to — you know, like Gladys Knight said, change is going to come. And anything I can do to honor that, to make that change, I want to be a part of it.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn to a clip of you sitting next to Albert three days after his 69th birthday, that moment when you came on Democracy Now! and he was free. This is what you said then.

MICHAEL MABLE: The only thing I felt and only thing I can answer is that I know he’s a free man when I’m able to walk across the sill of the door with him. And that reality set in when we was able to do that.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re showing the picture of the two of you together, Michael. What was it like when he came out of prison? You were there to greet him.

MICHAEL MABLE: When he came out of prison, I noticed one of the things, you know, that he was free. He was free. And one of the things that he had done before he died, and we talked about this many years ago, that he wanted his mind to be free. And, you know, that’s one of the things he have in this book, you know, definitely stating. But, you know, he was a free man, and he’s free now. And I speak for him through myself to the world. I just want them to know that, you know, that’s one of the things we got, and that’s one of the things we made vows to each other as brothers, that we would never give up hope. And I think that may have helped him. And then, I’m glad, as his brother played a big part of allowing him to feel that that hope had came and that freedom was there. You know?

AMY GOODMAN: You know, that day that we interviewed you and Albert, we also interviewed Robert King in that same studio, the three of you — Robert King who, when he got out of prison, about 15 years earlier, just traveled the country talking about who remained in prison. At the time, it was Herman Wallace and Albert Woodfox. Then Herman got out when a judge threatened the warden, if he didn’t release him that day, he would imprison the warden. And Herman got out, only to die in the next days of liver cancer. Robert King, you never stopped. And this is what you said as you sat also next to Albert Woodfox when he was free.

ROBERT KING: When you hit bottom, there’s no place but up to go. And Angola was the bottom. They even call it the bottom, and rightly so. And so, we were trying to get out that bottom. And ain’t but one way to get out the bottom, is to try to come up and do some things to kind of offset the situation, you know, the sad situation that was going on in prison. But it was a comfort also to our own mind. I mean, we were politicized. We had understood that we were — or why we were being targeted and punished, and this gave meaning to why we should struggle more so, because, you know, it was an unjust reason and unjust position we were in. And we had to struggle against this.

AMY GOODMAN: So, that’s Robert King in 2016. Robert, you’re joining us on the phone. Our condolences. Our deepest condolences to you, as well, joining us from not far from where Albert succumbed yesterday to COVID. Your thoughts?

ROBERT KING: Hi, Amy. You’re referring to me? Amy?

AMY GOODMAN: Yes. Hi, Robert. If you can share your thoughts today on your — on Albert Woodfox, his life and his death?

ROBERT KING: Yes, OK. Can you hear me?

AMY GOODMAN: We hear you perfectly.

ROBERT KING: Yes. Well, I was listening to Albert. I’ve been listening to the program since you started it. Wow. It’s kind of hard to, you know, to — again, in my mind, it seemed as if Albert was in the room with me. But that [inaudible] of sentiment. But, look, Albert — my sentiments now, you know, Albert, he was my brother. He was my friend. I’m going to miss him much.

You know, together — he traded [inaudible]. We saw some things that was amiss, in prison and out of prison. And we decided that we could add our little pebble to the pond. And so, Albert, just in short, he decided to do just that. He threw the pebble in the pond, knowing that it would create a ripple and knowing that it would eventually create a tsunamic effect. And he understood his reasoning for existing. And he lived out that. It’s kind of hard for me to believe. But then, again, you know, the pebble that he threw in the pond became a ripple, became a wave. And so, this will carry him on into eternity. He won’t be forgotten.

AMY GOODMAN: He will certainly not be forgotten. I wanted to go back to 1972, when Albert and fellow imprisoned Black Panther Herman Wallace were falsely accused of stabbing the prison guard Brent Miller to death. Woodfox and Wallace always maintained their innocence. They said they were targeted for being Black Panthers. In fact, Miller’s own widow, Teenie Rogers, would later urge Louisiana to free Albert and Herman, after she became convinced they were innocent. This is her in a 2010 documentary, In the Land of the Free.

TEENIE ROGERS: I’ve been living this for 36 years. There’s not a year that goes by that I don’t have to relive this. And it just keeps going and going. And then these men, I mean, if they did not do this — and I believe that they didn’t — they have been living a nightmare for 36 years.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Teenie Rogers. Carine Williams was one of Albert Woodfox’s longtime attorneys, but that doesn’t really describe her relationship — his beloved attorney, Carine Williams. Carine, can you talk about the significance of why he was held, like Herman Wallace and like Robert King, for so many years, again, to be this dubious distinction of the longest-held prisoner in solitary confinement in this country, for over 43 years?

CARINE WILLIAMS: Yes. Good morning, Amy. And I can talk about that.

As you mentioned, he was convicted wrongfully in 1972 along with Herman Wallace for the murder of this corrections officer, Officer Miller. And at the time, just by happenstance, the Supreme Court had declared the death penalty unconstitutional in America. And so, our position had been, based on the evidence as we litigated the cases, in Herman’s case and in Albert’s case, that prison officials really put them in the cells and told them that they were going to throw away the key, since they couldn’t execute them. So it was intended to be an extra punitive sentence that was not given to them by a judge or through any lawful process, but by these prison officials at Angola prison. And for the next, you know, in Albert’s case, 44 years, nearly 44 years, they were not only fighting to clear their name and overturn their convictions, but also fighting against these unconstitutional conditions that they were in of 23 hours a day in isolation, for basically the duration of their life sentences, is what the prison officials at Angola prison were seeking.

AMY GOODMAN: We only have 30 seconds, but if you can say how you finally got him out?

CARINE WILLIAMS: Oh, well, it certainly wasn’t me alone. There was a legion of lawyers, paralegals, experts, and then people all across the world and in communities near and far who supported these efforts, rolling boulders up mountains to get Mr. Woodfox out in 2016. And, you know, since we’re limited on time, I’ll just say, Amy, I’m so glad that you played the clip of Albert talking about, you know, “If a cause is noble, a man can carry the weight of the world on his shoulders.” With this passing, you know —

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to have to leave it there, but I thank you so much, Carine Williams and Michael Mable and Robert King. We will all remember Albert Woodfox. I’m Amy Goodman.

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Albert Woodfox in His Own Words on 43 Years in Solitary, the Black Panthers & Fighting Injustice

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