Teacher's Guide: Introduction

Welcome to the ALCATRAZ IS NOT AN ISLAND lesson plans. Today many tourists who come to Alcatraz Island see it only as the cold, desolate remains of the most notorious federal prison, yet to a large number of Americans it remains a symbol of hope. A takeover of the island by American Indians in 1969 became one of the most successful Indian protest actions and fueled the rise of modern Native American activism.

The takeover of Alcatraz brought Indian rights issues to the attention of the federal government and American public, changing forever the way Native people viewed themselves, their culture and their need for self-determination.


Lesson 1: ALCATRAZ IS NOT AN ISLAND: Victory from Loss
In this lesson, students will: identify what elements of the takeover made it a historically significant event; explore how it became a catalyst for a wave of Indian protest; and compare and contrast the experiences of the Native American rights movement with the African American civil rights movements.

Lesson 2: ALCATRAZ IS NOT AN ISLAND: Sovereignty is the Goal
Understanding the significance of Alcatraz will help illuminate the plight of American Indians for many students and permit them to see a modern example of how an event, battle, occurrence or moment in time can take on great significance to a culture. Even struggles that might be considered as an overall loss may ultimately have valuable lessons to teach. Usually such lessons are taught using older examples ranging from Thermopolae to Dunkirk, which seem distant and foreign.

About the Author: James McGrath Morris is a member of the social studies department of West Springfield High School in Virginia. He joined Fairfax County Public Schools in 1996 after a career in journalism and publishing. During his first year of teaching Morris was nominated for the Sallie Mae First Class Teacher Award. His work in American history has been published in Civilization, Journal of Policy History, Journal of Historical Studies, Quarterly Journal of the Library of Congress, New Mexico Historical Review, and Missouri Life, among other places. As an author or editor, Morris has published four books. He is currently at work on a biography of a turn-of-the-century New York journalist to be published by Fordham University Press.