I have visited Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay many, many times (after the Federal prison closed). I have been fascinated by the island, like many people, both during its notorious Federal prison days, as well as after. As a young boy, I followed the escape (1962) of Frank Morris and the Anglin brothers, and enjoyed the subsequent movie, “Escape from Alcatraz.” Then the closure of the prison, and subsequent occupancy of various Native Americans. I also enjoyed the fictionalized movie, “The Rock” with Cage and Connery.
But I have never read this story. It is also the story of assimilation for immigrants and Native Americans. And the story of disenfranchisement, and social injustice. Read for yourself, as it was fascinating.
O n the rainy morning of January 3, 1895, a group of Hopi men waited on San Francisco’s Clay Street wharf for the prison boat to Alcatraz. Wrapped in striped blankets, the 19 Indians stood out, even in a city like San Francisco, filled with people from all over the world. Some of the Hopis were gray-haired and bowed with age; others, scarcely out of their teens.
The next time I visit Alcatraz, will be from a different perspective. One of the Native American, not the notorious prisoners of the Federal prison, like Capone, Machine Gun Kelly, Doc Barker, Alvin “Creepy” Karpis, and the Birdman. If you have not visited, I strongly suggest it.
When I matriculated to UC Berkeley in 1964, I could see the Native American’s fires on the island from my dorm. Various campus organizations raised money to support the occupation. But, as history unfolded, the Free Speech Movement on campus became the focal point of activists, not the Alcatraz occupation. Too bad.