(Ed. Note: As the first black woman TV reporter and anchor in the West, Belva Davis covered some of the biggest news stories of the past half-century. Her new memoir, Never in My Wildest Dreams, relates the story behind the story of these events, including her interactions with Peoples Temple. The following excerpt from her book describes her introduction to the church.)
We knew her only as Miss Glover, a heavyset middle-aged woman with cropped hair and ebony skin—but what distinguished her from our previous housekeepers was her ability to move throughout our house without making a sound. She left our rooms spick-and-span. In retrospect, her stealth should have been a clue that there was more to Miss Glover than met the eye.
I always made a point of establishing a rapport with anyone who worked for us. Miss Glover was my greatest challenge. She kept herself tightly buttoned up and answered my questions with trepidation, as though she suspected my innocuous chatter concealed traps.
Over time, I learned that she had no family left and was selling the house she once owned in California’s Central Valley. “Are you sure you want to do that?” I asked her. “You know, it’s always good to have a place of your own to go home to someday.”
“No ma’am,” she said firmly. “We need the money for the work of the church.”
Her church was called Peoples Temple, and by the mid-1970s it was attracting hundreds of followers. Its leader was a charismatic reverend who preached an amalgam of utopian Christianity, racial harmony, communal socialism, megalomania, and paranoia. Temple members called him “Father.” To the rest of the world, he was the Reverend Jim Jones.
I had first met Jones the day I anchored a KPIX Noon News report about an impoverished Mexican boy journeying to the Bay Area for surgery on his cleft palate. Before our program was even off the air, Jones and a coterie of followers materialized in the station lobby with a check for the boy’s medical expenses. Jones hoped to present the donation on-air; but I balked, uncomfortable with the idea that I, as a reporter, would become an intermediary for any monetary exchange.
Nonetheless I did meet briefly with Jones, who was so smooth and slick he was almost oily, and his eyes studied me from behind tinted glasses. “We watch you on the Noon News every day, and we have so much respect for what you do and for how well you do it,” he gushed. “So we were watching you today, and when you shared the plight of this poor Mexican boy—well, we knew we had to do something to help.”
From then on, Jones made himself a regular correspondent of mine; and he sent frequent notes about newscast reports that he said moved him. He was generating ripples in religious and political circles throughout San Francisco—a mystery man who was siphoning off scores of parishioners from black churches while ingratiating himself to white liberals including mayoral candidate George Moscone. A white preacher who had adopted children of various races, Jones often said, “I’d give anything to be black.” Nobody knew quite what to make of him, but nobody was eager to cross him, either.
Curious, Bill [Belva’s husband, Bill Moore] and I attended a service at the Peoples Temple on Geary Boulevard, and we were flabbergasted by the church’s obsession with security. I watched while members and guests alike were subjected to searches—including a mother who had to open her baby’s diaper for inspection. The scene was bizarre, and I murmured as much to a church member standing in the line behind me.
“Well, remember what happened to Brother Malcolm,” she said, referencing the Black Muslim leader who was gunned down before a crowd in New York’s Audubon Ballroom a decade earlier. “You just can’t be too careful anymore.”
Bill and I left the Peoples Temple that day with no desire to ever return.
….One day Miss Glover failed to show up to clean our house, and we never heard from her again. The State Department did not list anyone named Glover among the Jonestown victims. But as I interviewed Temple survivors, including Jim Jones’s son Stephan and attorney Tim Stoen, I discovered that Miss Glover probably was doing more at my house than dusting my furniture and cleaning my floors.