Panthers still caged in Angola
By Mumia Abu-Jamal
" For people of colour, doing time is only one among many terms of imprisonment legitimised by the concept of race." — John Edgar Wideman, Behind the Razor Wire: Portrait of a Contemporary American Prison System (New York University Press, 1998)
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. Once a group of slave plantations, it earned its name from the south-west African kingdom which was later colonised 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, and it is here, Angola, where the state concentrated its penitentiary, and its attempt to stifle righteous black resistance to racist repression.
It is here that a young prison guard joined the mound of dead bodies manufactured in Angola, and several young black men, members of the state's Black Panther Party, were unjustly targeted, tried, and two convicted, in his killing.
The year was 1972, several months after then-US president Richard Nixon's visit to China. It was the year the late Alabama Governor George C. Wallace was shot and paralysed while campaigning for the US presidency.
One year later, Watergate exploded across the nation, and four imprisoned members of the Black Panther Party were formally tried for killing the prison guard. One, Gilbert Montegut, was acquitted; two, Albert Woodfox and Herman "Hooks" Wallace, were convicted; and another, Chester Jackson, turned state's witness, and snitched. Both Woodfox and Wallace have served a quarter of a century in continuous solitary confinement, locked down 23 hours a day.
There is every indication today that both men were framed for the killing. Indeed, after Montegut's acquittal, even Angola's then-warden, C. Murray Henderson, later admitted that Montegut was framed because of his "militancy". (Disbarred, Spring 1999). (Ironically, ex-warden Henderson, convicted of shooting his wife five times, is doing a 50-year sentence for attempted murder.)
The crime's only "witness" (now dead) was a notorious prison snitch named Hezekiah Brown, known as a "soft cop". What wasn't known at the time of trial was that Brown was at and after the time of the stabbing not only a snitch, but a paid snitch, who received "one (1) carton of cigarettes per week" (letter from Angola warden F.C. Blackburn to C.P. Phelps, Secretary of Corrections, April 7, 1978). The letter refers to "the original agreement with Brown" made by ex-warden Henderson years before, in "partial fulfillment" of their agreement "with respect to his testimony in the state's behalf".
Several years ago, Woodfox submitted to a polygraph examination, and his denials of involvement in the stabbing were found to be "truthful".
Like Montegut, Woodfox and "Hooks" Wallace were tried because they were "militant" members of the Black Panthers who organised the deeply oppressed brothers of Angola to rebel against that repression. They were so skilful that (before the killing) they organised a prison chapter of the Black Panther Party, an astonishing feat given the site.
Faced with life without parole in solitary, it is past time for people to organise for their life in freedom. They are political prisoners of the highest caliber who deserve your support.
They need immediate legal aid to file appeals. Please contact Angola 2 Support Committee, PO Box 15644, New Orleans, LA 70175 or <www.prisonactivist.org/angolatwo>.
Free the Angola 2!
Copyright © 1999 Mumia Abu-Jamal
[Mumia Abu-Jamal is a revolutionary journalist and leader of the Black Panthers who has been on death row since 1982 after being framed for the killing of a US cop in 1981. This article is reprinted from the Black Radical Congress's BRC-NEWS list. To subscribe, e-mail "subscribe brc-news" to <email@example.com>. The BRC web site is at <http://www.blackradicalcongress.com/>.