Beyonce shines a light on black history and ongoing injustices | Urgent Action Network blog | 8 Feb 2016 | Amnesty International UK

Beyonce shines a light on black history and ongoing injustices

To say that Beyonce stole the spotlight at the Super Bowl 50 half-time show is an understatement. Coldplay’s indie rock best was no match for Beyonce’s powerful performance of ‘Formation’, reaffirming her status as one of the world's biggest pop stars. But her performance was about more than this, she was making a bold statement to America: Black Lives Matter.

With choreography referencing Malcom X and the Black Panthers and lyrics such as ‘you just might be a black Bill Gates in the making’, this was easily the most politically charged performance of her career so far. Beyonce highlighted racial inequality and paid tribute to the Black Panther movement 50 years after its formation in 1966.

Beyonce's dancers paid tribute to #MarioWoods, black man killed by San Francisco police. #SB50 #BlackLives pic.twitter.com/m2Pl9i5qKL

— Jamilah King (@jamilahking) February 8, 2016

Black Power

The Black Panther Party formed in October 1966 with the aim of monitoring police behaviour and challenging police brutality. Fifty years later their calls for police to stop killing black people resonate now more than ever, following a string of high profile incidents of police brutality throughout America. But for one man in particular, the injustices of the past continue into the present day.

Albert Woodfox was one of the Angola Three, a group of prisoners who co-founded the first prison chapter of the Black Panther Party and campaigned for better treatment of black inmates at Angola State Prison in Louisiana. Together Albert Woodfox, Herman Wallace, and Robert King campaigned for an end to forced racial segregation, better conditions for inmates, and an end to the rape and sexual slavery that was then endemic in the prison.

Decades in solitary confinement

Albert and Herman were subsequently charged and sentenced to life in prison for the 1972 murder of a prison guard, despite a lack of physical evidence linking them to the crime. Robert King was also held ‘under investigation’ for the crime despite not having been in the prison at the time of the murder. He was later sentenced to life in prison for the murder of an inmate. The three men spent decades in solitary confinement. They argue that they were falsely implicated because of their political activism in prison as part of the Black Panther movement.

In 2001 Robert finally proved his innocence and won his fight for justice, he walked free and continues to campaign for Albert’s release. After a number of appeals Herman Wallace’s conviction was overturned on 1st October 2013. He passed away after just three days of freedom following a lengthy battle with cancer.

Judges have overturned Albert Woodfox’s sentence 3 times. He remains locked in lengthy legal processes and justice continues to be denied. He is currently awaiting a third retrial in a Louisiana prison, held in solitary confinement with little contact with the outside world. Amnesty International is calling for Albert’s release.

Spending his 69th birthday behind bars

Albert has been held in solitary confinement longer than any other in the USA. He has spent over 40 years held in a cell that’s just 6ft x 9ft, spending just 3 hours per week outside his cell.

On the 19th February he will be spending his 69th birthday behind bars in these conditions, but you can brighten up his day by sending him a message of hope. You are his window to the world, so tell him about yourself and what is happening in the world. He is a big fan of American Football and music, so you could even tell him how a blog about Beyonce and the Super Bowl led you to reach out to him.

Albert Woodfox #72148
West Feliciana Parish Detention Center
PO Box 2727
St. Francisville, LA 70775

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Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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