On this day in history in 1934, a federal prison opened on Alcatraz Island built to house the most dangerous prisoners and ones with a pension for escaping. The prison held notorious criminals such as gangsters Al Capone and George “Machine Gun” Kelly. In 1963 the prison closed due to high expense of maintenance. Later in 1964, members of the Sioux tribe occupied Alcatraz Island, citing an 1868 treaty with the US government and Sioux allowing them to claim any unoccupied government land. The occupation grew in 1969 when hundreds of Native students, protesters, and activists from across the country gathered for the Alcatraz Occupation. It became a place where many found their voices in the shadow of the Civil Rights movement and in the face of continued injustices perpetrated on American Indians by the United States government. In 1971 federal marshals forced everyone to clear the island. Shortly after, the island became a public recreation area maintained by the National Park Service. In 2001, filmmaker James Fortier brought his documentary Alcatraz Is Not an Island to the Sundance Film Festival to shed light on this important historic event. The film features archival footage and photography as well as a series of interviews with participants of the Alcatraz Occupation.
Film still and poster courtesy of Alcatraz Is Not an Island