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ALCATRAZ, an island in San Francisco Bay, California, was discovered by Spanish explorers in the sixteenth century. The United States took possession of the island in 1850 and fortified it, using it first as a military prison and later as a federal prison, beginning in 1933. Because of the strong, cold currents surrounding the island, most authorities considered it escape proof. Of the twenty-six prisoners who attempted escapes, five remain unaccounted for. The prison closed in 1963.

In November 1969 Native American activists occupied the island for over nineteen months, taking a stand

that marked a turning point in the American Indian Movement, which had begun earlier in 1969 and remained active into the late 1970s. Because the occupation brought together activists (and their broader base of supporters) from many different tribes, historians generally credit the occupation with breaking down the tribal nature of pre-1969 protests and helping to create a more unified fight for autonomy, self-determination, and appreciation of Native American cultures, even though the occupation did not achieve its initial goal of laying claim to title of the island. The island was opened to the public as part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area in 1972.


Eagle, Adam Fortunate. Heart of the Rock: The Indian Invasion of Alcatraz. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2002.

Odier, Pierre. The Rock: A History of Alcatraz. Eagle Rock, Calif.: L'Image Odier, 1982.

Paul S.Voakes/c. w.

See alsoPrisons and Prison Reform ; San Francisco .

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Alcatraz (Sp. álcatraces, pelican) Island in San Francisco Bay, celebrated as an escape-proof prison surrounded by shark-infested waters. Discovered by the Spanish in 1769, it served as a fort and then US federal prison (1933–63). In 1972 it became part of the Golden Gate National Recreational Area.

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Alcatraz a rocky island in San Francisco Bay, California. It was, between 1934 and 1963, the site of a top-security federal prison.

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