(Alcatraz) Antigovernment Graffiti Restored, Courtesy of Government
Ramin Rahimian for The New York Times
The newly rebuilt water tower with the restored graffiti. Native Americans were invited to participate in tracing over the final block letters.
For decades, visitors to Alcatraz Island had trouble deciphering the faded red graffiti on the old prison’s rusted water tower.
Then last month, the National Park Service unveiled a rebuilt water tower with bold red letters reading, “Peace and Freedom. Welcome. Home of the Free Indian Land.” The freshly painted inscription is an exact replica of graffiti left during the 19 months when Native American activists commandeered the wind-scoured island four decades ago and claimed it as their own.
“Normally, the federal government is not in the business of preserving graffiti,” said Alexandra Picavet, a spokeswoman for the National Park Service, who said that to her knowledge this was the only example of restored, modern-day graffiti. “The water tower was the occupation’s most outwardly focused message to the world and it is an important part of the island’s history,” she said.
In the early morning of Nov. 20, 1969, some 80 Native Americans sailed to Alcatraz and set up camp. They would stay on the craggy outcropping until federal marshals removed them on June 11, 1971. The group’s demands included establishing a Native American university and cultural center.