Robert Sundance and the Wall of Jericho by Tom Grode (Man of the Sea)


Photo by Stephen Ziegler, artist dangling from the window is Keith Biele Teacher

(Below post is from Tom Grode, a contributor to this blog. As part of his Summer journey back east, he will be sending in stories). 

We walk the Great Indian Road as we cross over into the Promised Land.

This late July picture is a painting of Robert Sundance going up in Indian Alley just south of Winston Street on the western edge of Skid Row Los Angeles.  Photographer Stephen Ziegler rents the main building on Indian Alley, 118 Winston Street, and had a street sign installed to honor the work done in the 1970’s and 80’s by former tenant United American Indian Involvement in reaching out to Natives on alcohol in Skid Row.  The UAII is now located in a larger space a mile west of Skid Row.

From the 2001 book “On The Rez”:  “Los Angeles, the city with more American Indians than any other, used to have lots of Indian bars. The Columbine, the Ritz, the Shrimp Boat, and the Irish Pub are among the names that people recall. A while ago while I was in L.A., I went looking for those bars without success. I did, however, find the L.A. landmark called Indian Alley. The name appears on no map or street sign, but Indians everywhere know it, and many thousands have been to it. It’s one of the most famous unofficial public spaces in the country – a narrow alley in the skid row district of downtown L.A., in the middle of the block bounded by Main Street, Los Angeles Street, Winston Street, and Fifth. The alley also continues partway down the block between Fifth and Sixth. Back walls of commercial buildings enclose it on both sides and it has the usual skid-row litter of flattened cardboard packing crates, squashed fruit, Styrofoam take-out containers, and broken glass. But the tribal names spray-painted on the bricks, the AIM slogans, the sketches of eagle feathers and war ponies, and the scrawled names and hometowns of Indians from reservations all over the country give it an aura of unceded territory, of native ground.”

Moses led the chosen people to the Jordan river, but they did not cross over into the Promised Land.  Instead they rebelled, planning to kill Moses and return to Egypt. And so the Lord decreed the entire adult generation who left Egypt would die in the desert with the exception of Joshua and Caleb.  They rebelled because twelve spies went into the land and came back with this report – there are giants in the land and we are grasshoppers in their sight.  Two of the spies were Joshua and Caleb and their report was these giants are nothing but food to us.  The people believed the ten spies.  Years passed and when that generation was no more, Joshua, the assistant to Moses, led the people across the Jordan and into the Promised Land.

One of the initiatives by United American Indian Involvement is the Robert Sundance Wellness Center.

May 30, 1994.  Excerpts from Los Angeles Times article by Michael Harris:  “On anyone’s scale, a Skid Row wino has to be one of America’s least powerful people. Next time you see one of those ragged figures sprawled on a sidewalk, consider the improbability of what Robert Sundance did in 1975: With an eighth-grade education and nearly 500 arrests on his rap sheet, he sued the city and county of Los Angeles to demand better treatment of street alcoholics by police and the courts. And won.”

As a result of the “Sundance Case,” a Los Angeles Superior Court judge in 1978 ordered sweeping changes. Drunks who had been simply thrown in jail were given medical treatment and released much sooner. Arrests for public intoxication in L.A. declined from 50,000 in 1975 to 4,000 a decade later. Weingart Center detox program opened on Skid Row in 1983.

Sundance, who had been jailed an average of 226 days a year for the 14 years preceding his lawsuit, sought to have arrests of street drunks declared unconstitutional. He directed the Indian Alcoholism Commission of California, a lobbying and educational group, from a Skid Row hotel room.

Born Rupert Sibley McLaughlin on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in Wakpala, S.D., in 1927, he was initiated into a demoralized, poverty-stricken culture in which alcohol, although forbidden by law, was the only balm. “Drinking became a status symbol among Indians,” he writes. “Kids saw drinking as the main way to grow up.”

At 15, he lied about his age and joined the Navy so he could leave the reservation and buy booze legally. He was an antiaircraft gunner on the carrier Ticonderoga during World War II. Then he resumed what was to be, despite stints as a rodeo rider, ranch hand, construction worker and firefighter, his only real career: drinking.

In Los Angeles, something happened. McLaughlin rediscovered his roots, taking the name Sundance in 1970. And he concluded that the same system that conspired to keep Native Americans drunk and dependent was using street alcoholics as slave labor.

Sundance began his lonely crusade, sending 80 petitions to judges before he got an encouraging answer and help from public interest lawyers.”

July 31st excerpt from article on  “Civil rights leaders on Wednesday hailed the passage of a Los Angeles City Council resolution calling for federal prosecutors to investigate the death of Florida teen Trayvon Martin.”

In a 13-0 vote, the Council passed the resolution by Councilmember Bernard Parks, which urged the U.S. Department of Justice and the Attorney General to conduct an investigation into possible civil rights violations in Martin’s death.  The vote makes L.A. one of the first U.S. cities to formally endorse a federal civil rights probe announced by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder in July.

On July 13, 2013, neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman was acquitted of second degree murder and manslaughter charges in the death of the 17-year-old Martin, who was shot and killed on February 26, 2012 in his hometown of Sanford, Florida.

Parks, a former Los Angeles police chief, said a formal investigation would help satisfy those Americans who disagreed with court’s verdict, which sparked demonstrations in L.A. and other U.S. cities.  “We hope that it basically sends a message that the city of L.A. believes that it’s been impacted by something 3,000 miles away, and hopes that the federal government will bring some closure to this,” Parks said.

The King Center in Atlanta (the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change) was founded by Coretta Scott King following the assassination of her husband.  Rev. Bernice King was named the CEO of The King Center in January 2012.  Primarily coordinated by The King Center, the 50th anniversary events in Washington go from August 24 to 28.  On August 17th, the King Center is hosting with a coalition of Atlanta organizations the Atlanta Global Freedom Exposition.

On Mlkdream50, the Facebook page for “Jobs  Justice  Freedom 50th Anniversary March on Washington:  I Have A Dream”, ten corporate logos are listed under Participating Organizations.  One of the logos is for the National Action Network founded by Rev. Al Sharpton.  Rev. Sharpton was the main person who mobilized attention to the Trayvon Martin case when it first happened as well as the primary organizer of the recent “Justice for Trayvon” rallies in 100 cities.

The July 31st cover of Time magazine had a hoodie with the title “After Trayvon”.  One of the articles inside was by Michelle Alexander, a civil rights lawyer and author of “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness”.  Her premise is the War on Drugs, treating drug users as criminals, has been slanted against the inner city male African American population, creating a generation of black males with criminal records unable to move forward in society.  Robert Sundance lived from 1927 to 1993. During his life he launched his War on Criminal Justice Treatment of  Public Drunkenness.

Joshua 5: 13-15…”Now when Joshua was near Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua went up to him and asked, “Are you for us or for our enemies?”  “Neither,” he replied, “but as commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.” Then Joshua fell facedown to the ground in reverence, and asked him, “What message does my Lord have for his servant?”   The commander of the Lord’s army replied, “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy.” And Joshua did so.

Coretta Scott King passed away on January 30, 2006.  Her daughter, Bernice King, gave the eulogy.  Here are excerpts from that eulogy:

“God makes no mistakes.  He’s a God of perfect timing.  And there’s a thing called kairos moments when God interjects himself in time like He did back in 1955, 50 years ago, to move this nation into another place and here He goes again, in a kairos moment.

It would be neglectful of us if we miss this moment and treated it like we were attending some funeral or home-going service and paying condolences and respect and then we allowed ourselves to return to life as usual and not stop and listen and hear the voice of God.

So God drew you in here today, even the four Presidents of the United States of America, because God had a word that He needed the nations to hear.


“And I looked at my mother and I said, Mama, uh, uh, are you wrestling with God? And she did not say a word to me. Because I believe in that very moment she was making a decision as to whether it was worth staying here in the earth to continue some more work, or whether she had to transition to be with God. And I think the glimpse that she got at that moment, was a glimpse that told her, that unless a seed fall into the ground and dies, it abides alone, but if it dies, it produces much fruit.

In other words, I think she got a glimpse to understand that there was a moment in God’s calendar that if she did not make the transition that she made, there were some things in the earth that could not be released to the people in the nations of my God! And so her death was much greater at that moment than she was, than it would have been for her to hold onto life.”


“God came to Coretta Scott King, said Moses, Martin, my servant is dead.  Arise, take this people over the Jordan.  See, Joshua was really Coretta.

I knew I wouldn’t get too many claps.  Cause sexism is still alive.  And sexism is not only just from men, it’s from women too.

And we missed it. We missed the fact that the one who really caught the heart and spirit of Dr. King and would not let us forget time and time again, as you saw on the video, that’s it’s either non-violence or non-existence.  That was Coretta Scott King.

She held it down.  God gave her the grace to be able to live as long as she did.  When she transitioned, she transitioned to a better place, but she left us as Joshua did with the children of Israel, with this question or statement.

Choose ye this day!

And if I might abbreviate for her, which way you gonna live?

Are you gonna live for the world’s system and the traditions and the conventional methods or are you gonna live according to the radical and the revolutionary transforming way of God through non-violence which is the Kingdom of God.


And I close with this.  (long pause)  God’s been waiting on us a long time to get it together.  And if we miss this one – we are gonna miss one of the greatest opportunities to demonstrate God in the earth.

We’ve gotta cease from our divisions.  We’ve gotta cease from our politicking.  We’ve gotta cease from the exploitation and the insecurities.

Because God is not looking for another Martin Luther King or Coretta Scott King.  The old has passed away.  There is a new order that is emerging.”

With Joshua having removed his shoes, the commander of the Lord’s Army released to him the following strategy:  March around the wall of the city with all the armed men.  Have seven priests march each with a trumpet from a ram’s horn in front of the Ark of the Covenant.  Do this for six days.  On the seventh day, march around the wall of the city with the priests blowing the trumpets.  When they sound a long blast, have the entire army give a loud shout.  The wall of the city will collapse.

One of the main things being organized for Washington on August 28th is a bell ringing milestone based on the final section of “I Have A Dream”.  Details are in this USA article.

Coretta Scott King died on January 30, 2006.  The following day, January 31, Elise Mason passed away.  Elsie Mason was the widow of Charles Mason, the founder of the Church of God in Christ (COGIC), the largest Pentecostal denomination in America with about seven million members, headquarters Memphis.  The COGIC began in 1897.  The church sent Mason to Los Angeles in 1907 to investigate the stories people were hearing.

In 1999, Time Life Pictorial published “The Life Millennium: The 100 Most Important Events and People of the Past 1000 Years”.   Number 67 was the invention of the study of anatomy (1531).  Number 68 was the Azusa Street Revival (1906).  Number 69 was the invention of the sewing machine (1851).

Azusa Street is immediately north of Skid Row off San Pedro Street in Little Tokyo.  In 1906 the wall came crashing down.  Azusa is a Native American word that means healing.

By Tom Grode

Blogger’s note: The views expressed in this blog post are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Trees on San Pedro Street Project editrix, Ms. McNenny. This is a Community improvement blog and not faith-based.

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