More SFSU Heroes

Richard Oakes

Richard Oakes was a former SFSU student, important member of American Indian Studies, and an Indian occupier at Alcatraz Island. Oakes played an integral part in creating one of the first American Indian Studies departments in the nation. He developed the initial curriculum and encouraged other American Indians to enroll.

As a Mohawk Indian, Oakes was a strong supporter of Native American rights. He believed that Native American people have a right to their land and identity and that they deserve respect, justice, and control. In 1969, Oakes led a group of students and urban Bay Area Indians in an occupation of Alcatraz Island that would last until 1971. He also recruited 80 UCLA students from the American Indian Studies Center.

Indians of various tribes joined Oakes and staged the longest occupation of a federal facility by Indian people. The historic occupation was made up initially of young Indian college students.

Described as a handsome, charismatic, talented and natural leader, Oakes was identified as “chief” of the island. Oakes had control of the island from the very beginning, with an organizational council put into effect immediately. Everyone had a job, including security, sanitation, day care, schooling, cooking, and laundry. All decisions were made by the unanimous consent of the people.

The goals of the Indian inhabitants were to gain a deed to the island, establish an Indian university, cultural center, and museum. In 1970 the island began to fall into disarray once Oakes’ 13-year-old stepdaughter fell to her death. After the fatality, Oakes left the island, along with numerous students who went back to school. Conflicts over leadership and the influx of non-Indians diminished the important stance of the original occupants.

In June 1971 the United States government removed the remaining 15 occupants from the island. While Oakes and his followers did not succeed in obtaining the island, they did affect U.S. policy and the treatment of Indians. As a result of the occupation, the official U.S. government policy of termination of Indian tribes was ended and replaced by a policy of Indian self-determination.

Shortly after his involvement with the occupation, Oakes was shot and killed in 1972 at the age of 31, however, his legacy continues in the Ethnic Studies program, the Student Council on Intertribal Nations, and in the political movements that he triggered. See also this post about more SFSU heroes, including Malcolm X.

Jack Adams

Jack Adams was a beloved member of the SFSU community for over 20 years and is remembered for his hard work and dedication to both the campus and AIDS community. Adams was born in 1945 in Virginia and grew up in North Carolina. He received Bachelor of Arts degrees in theater and art from the University of North Carolina in 1968. A year after his graduation he joined SFSU as the properties manager, and later the stage manager for the school of Creative Arts.

In 1982 he was appointed an assistant director of the Student Union, a position he would hold until his untimely death nearly ten years later. Not only was he involved with Student Union affairs, he also volunteered many hours each year serving on university committees such as the AIDS Coordinating Committee, the Human Resources Commission, and commencement planning. Adams was actively involved in the local AIDS community, and helped in starting the SFSU AIDS Quilt Project and worked to raise funds for those in need.

Near the end of his life, he challenged the school to raise $10,000 for SFSU’s Cindy Kolb AIDS Donation Fund by World AIDS Day, and he would match the amount until $20,000 was added to the fund. The fund supported SFSU students, faculty and staff with HIV/AIDS. Grants were given for medical expenses, school fees, transportation, and other needs. Read also the story of Richard Oaks’ 1969 Alcatraz Proclamation.

Adams resigned in July 1992 because of his declining health due to AIDS-related complications. He passed away on November 21, 1992, at the age of 47. At the time of his death, $11,500 was raised for the fund. Ultimately, the total campaign raised almost $30,000. On May 3, 1993, SFSU Student Center’s Barbary Coast room was renamed and dedicated to Adams as Jack Adams Hall.