Going to Alcatraz is a super touristy thing to do. I mean, I obviously was going to go to the Golden Gate Bridge but besides that I would say I generally try to avoid the tourist traps in any city. This is not meant as a disclaimer because I actually had a super fun time at Alcatraz and would have to say that it is definitely worth it to make your reservations in advance and go. However, my reasons for heading to this ominous Island were less about its time as a penitentiary and more about its symbolism and role in one of the greatest Civil Rights movements that no one seems to really know or care about.
If you don’t care about what I’m about to say, I’ll tip you off that there are some pretty cool pics at the end. I guess you can skip to them.
You’ve probably gathered that I’m into Civil Rights from my Atlanta posts at the Martin Luther King Memorial. Like my obsession with churches, civil rights movements fascinate me. There is something incredible about gathering a substantial number of people who may not always agree but have come together to fight against the man! Even more incredible is when these movements work and change is achieved. THAT IS AMAZING PEOPLE. A group fought for their equality and non-violently (usually) enacted legislative and social change. WOW I’m getting sweaty just writing about it. What a gorgeous thing!
Of course there are sadder sides to Civil Rights. It doesn’t always work and sometimes the change that follows is miniscule. Often people have to suffer undeserved punishments in the name of the end goal which sometimes never comes into fruition or proves ineffective. Sometimes people forget about your valiant efforts and this was what I found to be the case at Alcatraz.
When the Red Power Movement (a phrase actually coined by Vine Deloria, Jr. the father of one of my college profs!) began in the late 1960’s I doubt many people thought it would have an impact. How could a racial group that made up less than 2% of the United State’s population get anyone’s attention? It turns out that occupying an Island and trying to break off as a self governing body is a pretty good start! With the idea of Pan-Indianism (a break down of the barriers between different tribe identities and the start of a more encompassing identity as Native Americans) the racial group gained a lot more visibility and power. The occupation at Alcatraz was one of the more famous acts during the movement, though certainly not the only one. 89 (mostly college students but some married couples and 6 children) of different tribes gathered together and claimed the Island according to 1868 Treaty terms made with the Sioux Indian Tribe. They occupied the Island for almost 2 years asking for federal funds to build an education center, ecology center, and cultural center.
They ultimately failed but offset the Red Power Movement, the American Indian Renaissance and dozens of other protests, some of which were successful. I was so excited to see the actual place this amazing event took place and to learn more about the conditions (the government cut off all electrical power and telephone service to the island until they removed them by force on June 11, 1971). I expected an audio tour or a guide to tell me where they slept, share stories of those who were involved, and the history of the movement but instead all I found was a little exhibit with some old pictures and information.
SO, I hope you enjoyed that history lesson ;) I was pretty disappointed about the lack of Native American recognition but it was still a cool experience. I guess I can’t blame them for trying to capitalize on the money maker, which is obviously the prison aspect. I’ll finish it off with some pictures: