August 1, 2016, New York City.
Isn't it wonderful that we can celebrate and honor Albert Woodfox tonight with the Arthur J. Kinoy award!
This was established in 2008 to be given on special occasions to those individuals whose work and passion would have especially appealed to Arthur. Arthur was a legendary and life-long Guild member who was a legal pioneer and movement lawyer.
Albert Woodfox is a fighter who for over 44 years struggled to win his freedom, the freedom of his prison comrades, Robert King and Herman Wallace, and to change the inhumane conditions of prisoners not only in the infamous Angola Prison in Louisiana but throughout the US.
He walked out of prison last February and has kept on fighting to end solitary confinement, the abusive prison system and to free all political prisoners.
Albert was held in solitary confinement for 44 years longer than any other prisoner has ever been in solitary in the US.
He was a political prisoner, targeted by the Louisiana prison system, due to his participation in the Black Panther Party in the 1970s.
He is a free man today because of a movement that was determined to free him, as well as Robert King and Herman Wallace.
Albert was one of six children born to his beloved single mother. He was arrested and convicted in New Orleans, then sent to the infamous Angola Prison in Louisiana. He became politicized due to his personal experiences, and the civil rights and Black Power movements.
In Angola Prison, he and Herman Wallace, courageously formed a chapter of the Black Panther Party.
Robert King, who is also here with us tonight, later joined them in their struggle. Please stand up.
Angola was racist from the get go. In 1880, a former Confederate general began warehousing prisoners in the former slave quarters of a plantation named Angola. Angola's white supremacist nature hadn't changed one iota when Albert got there.
Albert, Herman, and Robert successfully organized other prisoners to fight together to end the intolerable conditions at Angola.
Angola prison officials saw them as a threat, which they were to the degrading and brutal Louisiana prison system. To silence the threat, prison officials framed Albert and Herman for the murder of a guard. A Louisiana jury convicted them, despite the lack of physical evidence and an unreliable eyewitness.
Robert spent the next 29 years in solitary confinement; Herman 41 years and Albert 44 years.
44 years! Can you envision spending even one week, totally alone, in a 6 feet x 9 feet cell? His only human contact was with racist white guards.
It was hot, (Louisiana hot) for example, 126 degrees for 85 days in 2012. He was confined in an unsanitary cell where he spent 23 hours a day and ate lousy food. Despite having an exemplary prison record, the prison wouldn't let him attend his mother's funeral. Most of us would just give up in despair. Not Albert. As he said: "if a cause was noble, you could carry the weight of the world on your shoulder."
Albert, Herman, and Robert continued to fight together to establish their innocence, free the Angola 3, to change conditions for prisoners in the US and to free Black people. Their courage and commitment inspired friends and family who organized a national and then an international movement.
He walked out of prison last February. Since that happy day, he has not forgotten what he suffered or what thousands of men and women are suffering every moment of every day in US prisons. Solitary confinement is torture and it must end.
He knows that there are other prisoners who are still incarcerated solely because of their political beliefs and actions. He is committed to freeing all political prisoners, including former members of the Black Panther Party and the Black Liberation Army who have been imprisoned since the early 1970s. Just as he continues to struggle, we need to redouble our efforts to free all our political prisoners.
Albert's presence tonight is dramatic proof that when we work together to end solitary confinement and to free political prisoners, we can win.
We need to break down the prison walls!
I am so honored to give the Arthur Kinoy award to a man who serves as an inspiration to so many of us.
Please join me in welcoming Albert Woodfox!