The Harriet Beecher Stowe Center will honor Albert Woodfox, author of the memoir “Solitary: Unbroken by Four Decades in Solitary Confinement. My Story of Transformation and Hope” as the 2020 Stowe Prize Winner.
Woodfox, one of the “Angola Three,” spent more than four decades in solitary confinement at the notorious Angola State Prison in Angola, Louisiana, for a crime he did not commit. His home for 23 hours a day was a 6-foot by 9-foot cell in Angola prison named after a former slave plantation.
The three–Woodfox, Robert King and Herman Wallace–all members of the Black Panther Party, vowed they would never be broken by the grinding inhumanity and corruption of Angola.
The book, published in 2019 by Grove Press, describes how he survived in prison and how he was able to inspire other prisoners.
Wallace and Woodfox spent more than 40 years in solitary confinement after being indicted for the 1974 murder of a prison guard. Woodfox pleaded no contest to the murder, which is not an admission of guilt. He was convicted of the guard’s murder but both verdicts were overturned. Woodfox’s last verdict was overturned in 2013 by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.
It was the longest period of solitary confinement in U.S. history. The three maintained prison guards framed them because they were members of the Black Panther Party.
Wallace died of liver cancer on October 4, 2013. Prison officials released King in 2001 after he had spent 29 years in solitary confinement.
On February 9, 2016, Woodfox, then 69, walked out of prison a free man. He is now 71.
The Harriet Beecher Stowe Center, named in honor of Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin; or Life Among the Lowly” an anti-slavery novel, published in 1852. It has received some of the credit for starting the Civil War along with rebellious black men and women and armed abolitionist John Brown.
We have called other blacks “Uncle Tom” when they have acted in subservient manner to whites. Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom is none of that. He was brutally whipped by his white owner for refusing to disclose where several other slaves ran off to.
Uncle Tom’s character is based on Rev. Josiah Henson, who escaped slavery with his wife and two children by walking 600 miles from a plantation in Kentucky to Canada where he founded Dawn, a settlement for fugitive slaves near Dresden, Canada. Former slaves owned their own homes and started a lumber business.
Henson’s story is told in his autobiography “Truth Stranger Than Fiction: Father Henson’s Story of His Own Life.”
Stowe is also a complicated person. She was a strong abolitionist, but she believed freed slaves should be returned to Africa. “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” was first serialized in The National Era, an anti-slavery newspaper, from June 5, 1851, to April 1, 1852.
The Stowe Prize recognizes the author of a distinguished book of general adult fiction or nonfiction whose written work illuminates a critical social issue in the tradition of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.”
Previous Stowe winners include Michelle Alexander, author of “The New Jim Crow” in 2013; Ta-Nehisi Coates, author of the “A Case for Reparations” in 2015 and Bryan Stevenson, author of “Just Mercy” in 2017.
The Stowe Prize programs will include a free public program with Woodfox on Wednesday, September 23 and the presentation of the Stowe Prize to Woodfox on Thursday, September 24, on the Stowe Center Grounds, 77 Forest Street, Hartford, Connecticut.
If you can’t attend, go to #StoweInspired. You also can go Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.