Notes on Peoples Temple

by Carlton B. Goodlett

The late Carlton Goodlett was editor of the San Francisco Sun Reporter at the height of Peoples Temple’s popularity and visibility in San Francisco in the 1970s. Dr. Goodlett, Jones’ personal physician, wrote editorials and articles in support of the Temple. He also visited the community in Jonestown. This essay originally appeared in The Need For A Second Look At Jonestown, ed. Rebecca Moore and Fielding M. McGehee III (Lewiston NY: Edwin Mellen Press, 1989).

Jim Jones first came to my attention through conversations with former patients who had attended the weekly Peoples Temple meetings in the early 1970s in the Ben Franklin Junior High School auditorium. The junior high had been a girls’ high school which was attended by the daughters of most of the elite in San Francisco. My patients often spoke about the good work that the Peoples Temple was doing, and finally one of them invited me to attend one of the meetings.

I had also been invited to the Peoples Temple enclave in San Francisco to treat several aged patients who suffered from various forms of arthritis and were unable to come to the medical offices. I visited them in the church’s living quarters, where a number of them resided. They too praised Peoples Temple, especially the Rev. Jim Jones. I lost track of many of them over the years, and several of the most elderly ones seemed to have disappeared. However, they were rediscovered in Jonestown.

During a weekend in 1972 1 was called to Mount Zion Hospital to see a Ms. Jim Jones who suffered from various complaints, including diabetes, high blood pressure, and hypertensive heart disease. She had developed early signs of a hyperinsulinism due to the fact that she had taken her insulin but failed to eat. I discovered after several days that this kindly elderly lady was the mother of the Rev. Jim Jones. As she recovered from this acute episode she talked frequently about her son, and I was able to see him on several occasions at the hospital.

From this time on, our relationship became more intimate and I found myself an arbitrator on some of the problems which arose in the congregation. For example, when the church transferred its operations from Redwood Valley to San Francisco, several of the elders were concerned that the adolescent children who had to go to high school were not enrolled in public high schools. The church had made arrangements to enter them in a special private school on Broderick and California Streets. The tuition cost between $12,000 and $18,000 per student. Without any prodding, the congregation agreed to pay the tuition fee. When the problem came to my attention, however, we interceded with Jim Jones and persuaded him to let the youngsters attend public high schools.

Peoples Temple members and Jim Jones had a great interest in the health and well-being of Temple residents. There were several nurses, RNs, and licensed physiotherapists living at the church compound, and they treated the persons who had arthritis and were not mobile enough to get to the doctor. We obtained a license for the clinic, and using my medical license, we were able to register the physical therapists. With this assistance, many of the elderly persons suffering from arthritis greatly improved and were able to leave their beds and attend social functions at the church.

News reports to the contrary, I was not the personal physician of Rev. Jones. However, I did treat his wife and his mother and other members of his family, especially his adopted sons, for the usual childhood and adolescent problems.

In the fall of 1974, a young male member of the congregation visited me, at Jim Jones’ direction, to talk about his great desire to study medicine. I was very impressed by the fact that Jim Jones had saved this young man from alcohol and narcotics. He had stepladder marks on his arms, and he admitted that he had been a drug user. Apparently he found a solution to his problem when he joined the Peoples Temple. Investigation revealed that this young man’s reputation was appalling, and he was known for his narcotics use in Texas and other states. He could not get into any of the American medical schools. After about 72 hours, the thought occurred to me that this young man was an excellent candidate for the English medical school in Guadalajara, Mexico. I suggested this to Jones, and the young man attended school there. Ultimately he became the Jonestown doctor.

*

In 1975 a number of us — including Peoples Temple representatives — organized a group of persons sympathetic to the role of Cuba and the Central American countries in the struggle for peace. A delegation went to Cuba to investigate the possibilities of our obtaining exclusive rights to control the distribution of Cuban products in the United States. Jim Jones took his four adopted sons with him, one of whom — a little black boy — bore his name.

About this time I began to learn of Jones’ plans to transfer his whole operation to Guyana, in South America, where he had done some missionary work. There was a possibility of establishing a research farm, which would lead to the development of the church’s influence in Latin and South America.

Rev. Jones had been in Cuba before, he told me, at the time of the revolution. In fact, he claimed to know some of the young officers of the revolution. He had been doing missionary work in Brazil, just prior to the abdication of the country’s president, when he and another missionary were notified that the government would be changed in a few days. It seemed that these two foreign missionaries would be appointed by the leaders of the counter-revolution. This was the beginning of the long night in Brazil, in which the military ruled without contradiction. Rev. Jones believed it would be best that he leave. He had not ever heard again from the other young missionary.

After leaving Brazil, Jones went to Cuba, where he stayed until after the Castro revolution. He then returned to the states and went back to Indianapolis, where he attempted again to establish an interracial church. However, the atmosphere toward him was so hostile he decided to leave and come west.

In the interim between his return from Cuba and his arrival in the west he took the opportunity to go to Philadelphia and meet with Father Divine. He wanted to investigate the techniques of developing a continuing organization which would be able to prosper. Jones was especially interested in how to maintain a group of persons living together with the use of government funds available for that purpose. He asked Father Divine if it were true that he considered himself a disciple of the Christian Faith, and possessed an immortal life. Father Divine’s reply was, “So for the people.” While not directly answering the question, Father Divine gave Rev. Jones some tremendous insight into the building of a financial institution, being able to house the people and fulfill their needs in every respect. He came away from Father Divine convinced that the first prerequisite for establishing a viable mission was to have all the people live on the same premises in dormitories.

*

Although I had become very involved in the medical aspects of the Peoples Temple, we discussed a range of social issues, including socialism. Rev. Jones indicated with remorse that he was never able to visit socialist countries such as the Soviet Union or China. He allowed himself to be persuaded that he could be a very good Chief Dairyman. He wondered about living in the Soviet Union, and was told he would probably be the chief dairyman.

It was clear that Peoples Temple and its leadership were committed to social change, and several things impressed me about their work. One was the church-sponsored tour of the nation each year by a caravan of seven or eight buses. The buses, loaded with Temple members, would leave San Francisco and return five or six weeks later. An increasing number of members looked forward to this annual event as an opportunity to become real American citizens, to see and know their country.

I was also surprised that a church in northern California, San Francisco, and Los Angeles would become interested in the question of a First Amendment case in Fresno, California. In that case a reporter claimed that his First Amendment rights protected him against revealing his contacts. This position was contrary to that of the judge. Many newspapers in the state wrote editorials condemning the judge, and commending Jim Jones and members of his congregation for going to Fresno to actively protest the jailing of this reporter and supporting his right to silence.

Jim Jones also won the National Newspaper Publishers Association Man of the Year Award, which was given by the Black Press of America. The award cited the church for its efforts to help the beleaguered newspaper man in Fresno. Except for the black press, most publications considered this an unusual activity for the interracial church.

The group’s commitment to freedom of the press, and to alternative media, could be seen in the publication of Peoples Forum. At that time, in the mid-1970s, we were expanding operations at the Sun Reporter and Metro-Reporter Group, and had just acquired the California Voice, the oldest black newspaper published west of the Rocky Mountains. We had the facilities and the personnel, so we began printing the Peoples Forum for Peoples Temple. It was a very profitable venture for the Sun-Reporter, because we were able to add our publishing needs to their billing. We were able to buy carloads of newsprint at $120 per ton and saved at least $80 a ton on newsprint costs.

We entered another publishing venture with Peoples Temple in 1975 or thereabouts. The Journal and Guide Newspaper in Norfolk, Virginia, had difficulty in paying its obligations and maintaining its financial stability. I talked it over with several officers of the Peoples Temple. When we contributed $35,000, Rev. Jones said the Peoples Temple would match the amount, and the Journal and Guide received $70,000 to pay its obligations. As a result, they were able to continue their publications, although this was merely the first of three financial crises that that paper had during the past fifteen years. One of the Temple attorneys worked closely with us in reorganizing the Journal and Guide.

*

Few in San Francisco were aware of the tremendous power Peoples Temple had. It became evident on the occasion of the visit of Romesh Chandra of the presidium of the World Peace Council, who came to this country with a delegation. For the first time he was given permission to go beyond the 35–mile limit of the United Nations and New York City and see the rest of the country. When he came to San Francisco, we were able to arrange royal entertainment sponsored by the Peoples Temple and Glide Memorial Church, under the leadership of the Rev. Cecil Williams. We also held a rally for disarmament in the church, and for the first time progressives in San Francisco, friend and foe, became aware of the incredible power of the Peoples Temple forces. The church was packed to overflowing with members of the Temple, neatly dressed with bright kerchiefs over their heads. They had come in four or five buses.

With the election of George Moscone as Mayor of San Francisco in 1976, Jim Jones and the Temple were pushed more and more toward partisan politics. There was no question about Jim Jones being subversive while the politicians flocked to the Temple. However, the natural fallout of the Temple’s increasing partisanship was to make new political enemies, and Republicans and others became vocal critics.

The church was also increasingly active in community affairs. From time to time we ran into delegations from the church attending various civic meetings. In fact one of the first serious community controversies we learned of was the fact that some of the middle-class black Negroes who were members of the NAACP in the leadership cadre recognized that the Peoples Temple was active in civic affairs. There were indications that eventually these members would be controlling the organization, due to their numbers. On some occasions, more than half the people at the meeting were members of the Peoples Temple Church. This was the first instance I know of when some of the black leadership cadre criticized the Temple for its leadership role.

More often than not, however, I found that all of my friends were as enthusiastic as I was about Peoples Temple. During the last five years of its existence in San Francisco, Peoples Temple had grown in influence and acceptability in the community. On many occasions the church was visited by prominent politicians: Governor Jerry Brown, Lt. Governor Mervyn Dymally, Assemblyman Willie Brown, John and Phil Burton, Supervisor Dianne Feinstein, Mayor George Moscone. With the election of Moscone as Mayor of San Francisco, the group entered a new phase in the life of the community. Rev. Jones was appointed to the Housing Authority. He also was able to place the chief counsel of the church in the district attorney’s office of San Francisco.

It was about this time that I learned that Jones had obtained positions for himself and members of the church in various political appointments, back when the congregation had its headquarters in Redwood Valley.

Even as he seemed to consolidate his power in San Francisco, though, the Rev. Jones was organizing the mass migration of Peoples Temple members to the agricultural mission established in Guyana. He wanted to use the settlement as a vanguard for black Americans and others who would appreciate socialist living. This also was a refuge where Jones could go to escape prosecution for evading a California court order when he took a youngster, John Victor Stoen, to Guyana. Rev. Jones claimed to have fathered the child. It was not until about eight or nine months later that I learned of the rift in the leadership of Peoples Temple, centered on the question of the child born to Tim and Grace Stoen.

I remember that Jim Jones offered the Peoples Temple for the Good Friday observance during the Easter Week celebration of the black churches in the community. After this celebration Jones was out of the country frequently working on Jonestown in Guyana. This was in 1977.

*

On a number of occasions prior to Jim Jones’ leaving for Guyana permanently, we discussed the relocation of the Temple headquarters to South America, to which I objected. However, I did not know all the circumstances when Jones finally left for Guyana, nor that it was to be his last time in America. He believed he was being hounded by the City Attorney’s office and other local officials. He left abruptly.

He called me several times from Guyana. One night he called to ask what he should do in the John Stoen case, because he said that the Supreme Court of Guyana had requested his appearance in Georgetown. He was very concerned over the possibility of being taken into custody and returned to the United States against his will. As usual, I told him to quiet down and look at the problem objectively. “You are in Guyana as a guest of the government,” I told him, “which has given you a right to occupy the land there. I think that the government is going through legal processes and I don’t think it will be necessary for you to barricade the approaches to the community.” I advised him to go to Georgetown for the hearing. The justice who had ordered him to come was honoring the law of the land. I said it was unlikely that he would be extradited, especially without a serious discussion with the President of Guyana, who had allowed him to come in the first place. After a long discussion, Jones seemed to quiet down and take my advice.

When discussing this with some of the reporters after the massacre I learned that my response was considered as effective as any at preventing a confrontation between Jones and the Guyanese authorities. Some reporters, including Drew Pearson’s son, told me that Jim Jones had seen some records indicating that the proper solution to the controversy was due to my discussion with Jones, and to the calmness with which I viewed the matter.

There were some nights when I would be awakened by Jones between two and four a.m. We would talk via the shortwave phone connection with the Temple in San Francisco. Jones would be unable to sleep and would want to discuss some subject that was of crucial importance to himself. I always told him that if a problem had lived with him that long, it would wait a few more hours until daylight.

These nocturnal calls usually involved some fear that he had about impending moves, and things that were happening to the Temple. At one point I felt that the man must be suffering from manic depressive tendencies. I dismissed this thought without much serious debate in my own mind because anyone who challenged the status quo had to be a little paranoid to survive.

During the spring of 1978 I was invited to visit Guyana that summer. It was a casual invitation which I didn’t take very seriously. I was not a lover of a country that had dangerous reptiles like the “green mama,” and that type of thing. But as summer wore on, Temple members came to my office to say that Jim Jones was suffering from an illness, and he wanted me to come. In fact, Marceline Jones came to say that he was very ill. She was worried that he might have TB or cancer, and urged me to come. Although I said I was very tired, Mrs. Jones replied that her husband would really appreciate it if I came for a visit.

It so happened that I was spending some vacation time that August with a schoolmate and dear friend Dr. Robert Morton, Jr. and his wife. I got word from Jim that he was ill, and that I must see him. He even offered a special plane. I hesitated, but when it was put in the context of someone being ill, I decided to go. I caught the Jamaica Air from Antigua to Georgetown.

When I arrived in Guyana, evening was approaching. Marceline Jones met me at the airport and we spent the night in the house the Temple owned in Georgetown. The next morning it was raining. Marceline asked if I could go to Jonestown that day. I met a few Guyanese officials before the weather cleared and we were able to fly to Jonestown. It was a small plane and I was apprehensive about flying over piranha-infested waters! We would fly in and out of the clouds, but when it was time to land, you couldn’t see anything. I wondered how the pilot could land, but he was right on target and we arrived at the Port Kaituma airstrip, where Congressman Leo Ryan was shot three months later.

We met a delegation from Jonestown, and rode in heavy trucks back to the community. Along the way we stopped to pick up a young child and his father. The child had some kind of pea in his nostrils. They wanted the Jonestown doctor to remove it.

It was raining when I got to Jonestown. They had just planted 2000 banana trees in the compound, up near the entrance. When we turned to the right, there was a chicken–house where Charles Garry and Mark Lane were later taken by a man who threatened to kill them [on November 18, 1978]. We were greeted by a number of old friends and patients whom I hadn’t seen for a number of years, including Fairy Norwood, a young woman I had treated for diabetes. After lunch, I took a tour and marveled at the tremendous amount of construction. The guide told us that they had enough technical skills to build at least one cottage a day from the clay that they made there. They were very pleased that the people of Guyana had accepted the community.

I visited the nursery, where youngsters were taken care of. I also saw a place where some elderly members had developed the skills to fix and make wooden toys for the kids.

Then we went to the clinic where I saw Jim Jones, who looked rather fatigued, pallid, and pale. I toured the clinic and met some of the nurses whom I’d known in San Francisco — I hadn’t realized they were part of Peoples Temple. We went into the doctor’s office and examined Jim Jones. He had a spiking temperature which fluctuated between 96 and 102.8 degrees. He also had a deep, nonproductive cough. Physical findings did not indicate any notable pathology. X-rays were normal, without any objective signs of pneumonia, TB, or cancer.

We tried to reassure Jones that he did not suffer from any disease. I did indicate, however, that he might be suffering from a fungus infection of the lung. During the nine months prior to my going to Guyana, I saw nine cases of San Joaquin Valley Fever. One patient had pneumonia, which was fungal in origin. She later developed a fungus infection in her bloodstream. The second patient, a man, developed the disease, and we found that he had a large calcified mass in his right chest. This probably isolated the disease somewhat from his nervous system.

Jones’ condition may have deteriorated in the three months after I saw him. If the reports of an increasing dependence on drugs are true, it may have contributed to a severely weakened state by the time Congressman Ryan arrived. The drugs may also have left him with a feeling of helplessness, a condition which could only have been exacerbated by the presence of what the Jonestown residents considered an outside threat. To that degree, then, Jones’ physical health during the last few months of his life may have contributed as much as anything else to the terrible decision to destroy everything he had built.

*

Once when the Rev. Jones asked my advice I told him I was opposed to his politicizing everything he did, because of the fact that the church was accused of being more a political institution than a religious one. I believed that his enemies would destroy him, at least by minimizing his influence, or that of the church. But while he sought my advice on many subjects, I was not unaware that he took my advice very seldom. While my opinions were well received, they did not lead to much action on his part. Up through his decision to lead his congregation in mass suicide, Jim Jones remained very much his own man, his actions and decisions spurred by his own definitions of justice, power and leadership.

Last modified on November 21st, 2013.
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