And Then They Were Gone: A Synopsis


Chapter One: Opportunity High
Chapter Two: Scenes and Behind the Scenes
Chapter Three: The Cobras
Chapter Four: And Then They Were Gone
Chapter Five: In Jonestown
Chapter Six: Ollie and Gene: A Love Story
Chapter Seven: The Last Game, The Last Night
Chapter Eight: Aftermath
Chapter Nine: Thirty Years Later
Chapter Ten: “Orphans of Jonestown” from The New Yorker (11/22/93), with permission by Lawrence Wright
Timeline: (gives background material from newspapers, books, magazines and papers at the California Historical Society)

The book is creative non-fiction, based on two teachers’ memories of Opportunity High in San Francisco when, in 1976, teenagers from Jim Jones’ Peoples Temple came there. Incorporated in the story are excerpts from school-student publications; newspaper articles from the time concerning Opportunity and those about the growing notoriety of Jones and his church; interviews with survivors of Jonestown and other Opportunity teachers; and research done at the California Historical Society, which houses all the Peoples Temple archives. (Peoples Temple with an  omitted apostrophe is the official church name).  Denise Stephenson, curator of the church papers when the authors visited CHS, was a great help; as were Eugene Smith, survivor; other survivors who spoke on panels sponsored by CHS; Stephan Jones; and Tim Reiterman, author of Raven: The Untold Story of the Reverend Jim Jones and His People.

The Introduction provides background information about the Temple’s relocation in San Francisco, gives the feel of the times and tells about the deaths of 918 by cyanide-laced fruit drink or by gun.  Many of those in Jonestown were children and adolescents, young adults and elderly people, and most were African American.

Chapter One  sets the scene, September of 1976, at Opportunity II High School, a small (300) public alternative school in San Francisco designed for students struggling with academics, those who were in danger of dropping out, and those who had been “turned off” to more traditional approaches to learning.  The young and idealistic staff were making a second attempt (Opportunity I was the first) at helping students succeed, trying to get it right this time.

Then came the first group of students from Peoples Temple, a church newly established in San Francisco by Reverend Jim Jones, who had just been appointed to the City Housing Authority by then Mayor George Moscone.

In the second group of students from the church were Stephan Jones, Tim Tupper Jones, and Jim Jones, Jr. — all sons of Jim Jones. The Temple group would eventually number more than 100.  Yvonne Golden is introduced as the force responsible for opening the door to Jim Jones and his teenaged followers. Golden and Jones were both radical socialists took to each other at once.

The first scene introduces Stephan, Jones’ only biological son,  who meets with his counselor, Judy.  Yvonne and Opportunity’s “Student Coordinator” speak to this new group of Temple students.  The bell is rung for class and another of the Temple students assigned to Judy as a counselee, follows her up the stairs, where he sits in on Judy’s Creative Writing class.  Poems actually written by Temple kids at Opportunity are part of the scene.

The head counselor, John, takes Stephan to meet Ron in his classroom, along with Tim and Jim Jones, Jr., Jones’ adopted sons, one  white, one black, who let Ron know they are interested in his idea for forming a baseball team to compete with the big San Francisco schools.

Chapter Two begins to give a “behind the scenes” view of the church, beginning with two Opportunity teachers joining Jim Jones and Temple members on a bus trip to join a protest of the jailing of “The Fresno Four,” journalists who have refused to reveal their sources. The church rallies supporters for good causes such as this. The Opportunity teachers, Bob and Norm, get a glimpse of what the church is like.

The story returns to Opportunity. Ron’s radio production class does a show featuring the new school superintendent. Manny, of the baseball team hosts the radio show. Fellow class member Debbie Liatos asks some good questions and lets Superintendent Alioto know about the little team that wants to play with the big schools.

Ron writes a letter to Jones, telling him that his sons and Temple boys are key players on the would-be team. The next scene describes the first pre-season practice and a shaky but promising beginning.

Ron, who has had no response from appeals to the district, and key team players stage a protest at the school district offices. It is a small success. Then, at a meeting of principals and the athletic director, Ron makes his case once again. The vote, surprisingly, is to admit the Opportunity team to the school district athletic league.

The last scene takes place in December. Jones appears at the school and speaks to students and staff at a Christmas break celebration, with church members arriving in buses bringing food. Temple entertainers, among them Judy’s counselee Ollie, perform. Jones makes a donation to the fledging baseball team. Ron is glad, and somewhat surprised, to get the support of Jones.

Chapter Three opens with the first official practice of the Cobras. It looks good for the little team. Debbie, who is the girlfriend of Cobra player Henry Flood, approaches Ron about trying out for the team. Ron is reluctant, but convinced by her sincerity. He promises to ask his wife Rita for advice. The boys on the team grudgingly accept her when she does well. Debbie becomes a historic figure as the first woman to play on a baseball team in the San Francisco AAA League. Ron’s Radio Production class does a show with San Francisco Giant player Mike Sadek, and members of the team, including Debbie, interview him.

The chapter also has a description of the first League game, and the Cobra’s first defeat. Tim pitches his heart out, as if it was to be his last game and, as it turns out, it is.  The next day Tim is taken out of the school by his mother, Marceline Jones, who declares that his dad needs him for church work in South America – a place called Jonestown. With Tim’s sudden and unexpected departure the future of the team is in jeopardy. The Cobras, though they struggle, go on to lose all the remaining league games — except for one memorable game that ends in a 12 to 12 tie.

In Chapter Four, over the summer, the school is moved to a new site away from the city center. By June 1977, many of the Peoples Temple students have quickly and quietly slipped away. Over the summer, local newspapers begin an all-out attack on Jones, and it is reported that at least one hundred people have left for Guyana. Ron is quoted in an article about Opportunity and the Temple.

At the beginning of the 1977-8 school year, morale has begun to fall among the staff. Ron uses articles about the Temple in reading classes. Temple officials visit the school and warn him to stop as the stories are “filled with lies.” Yvonne tells Ron there is a message from Guyana: a girl there is pregnant. Ron is reported to be the father—a threat meant to keep him quiet. Judy is troubled by marital difficulties. A few remnant Peoples Temple students remain on board, one of whom is sent to Guyana by her mother. Judy and Bob Morrow go on a field trip to D-Q University where students are to meet with Dennis Banks. The field trip ends in near-disaster. Junior, who had been coming to school in order to play baseball, saves the day. But later, he nearly gets in a fight in Judy’s classroom, gets in trouble outside of school, and is sent to “Log Cabin,” where more serious juvenile offenders are sent.  He writes Judy.

Ron begins practices with the Cobras, but with the Temple team members and Junior gone, the Cobras have lost their spark. Debbie has graduated, but a new female player, Carey McClellan, becomes the first on a varsity team in San Francisco. (The Cobras were to play JV for one year, then move up to compete with older players.) The Galileo/Opportunity game is the worst of the season for the Cobras, 30 to 0. Manny breaks down and cries, not just because of the game, but because he’s worried about his friends.

Tension grows between many of the teachers and Yvonne, who goes more and more often into her office, where she is on the phone. Her behavior becomes increasingly erratic. She loses her temper, berating teachers and the secretary. Teachers, 8 of them, begin to leave for other schools, including Judy and Ron.

Chapter Five takes place in Jonestown, where students attend a school of sorts, write letters home as assignments. Some Opportunity students work clearing land, growing food, caring for younger children, as builders or as security guards.  Stephan, Tim and Jim Jr. start a Jonestown basketball team which includes other Opportunity students. Young people are allowed celebrations which include movies, singing and dancing. But there are troubling signs that all is not well in the jungle “paradise.” This chapter is based on research done at CHS.

Chapter Six tells the story of Ollie, Judy’s counselee and her husband Gene, a survivor who told Judy the story of their elopement, marriage in the South, and their time in Jonestown.  Gene was a strong and intelligent young Temple member who headed a construction crew and was in charge of shipments from Georgetown, the capital of  Guyana, to Jonestown. Ollie perished in Jonestown, along with their infant, Martin Luther. This chapter is based on interviews with Gene.

Chapter Seven In September of 1978, Opportunity II moves again, to a school designed for disabled students, across from Alamo Square Park. The school changes its name to Ida B. Wells High School.

In Guyana, Congressman Leo Ryan, aide Jackie Speier, journalists, and Concerned Relatives from the church who are hoping to bring loved ones home arrive in Jonestown. The group tours the village and is fed and entertained. Ollie is one of the singers. As the party, with many who choose  to leave Jonestown are on their way to the airstrip to fly out, Ryan is knifed by a Don Sly, Opportunity student Mark Sly’s father. Ryan is not hurt, and leaves for the airstrip. The Jonestown basketball team is away in Georgetown, having accepted an invitation to play in a tournament against Guyana’s national basketball team. Five players had attended Opportunity High and four had played for the Cobras – Tim Jones, Jim Jones Jr., Stephan Jones, Calvin Douglas Williams and Johnny Cobb.  Ryan’s party is ambushed at the airstrip by Temple members. Stephan refuses  to  come back to Jonestown with the others when his mother calls.

The last “White Night” takes place in Jonestown, in which so many were given cyanide or had it forced on them. The children are killed first. Marceline Jones tries to stop the killing of the babies, can’t, and takes poison herself.

In Chapter Eight On November 18, 1978 the news of the deaths in Guyana begins  to arrive. All the names of the dead are not revealed at first. It takes time to identify all the 918 bodies. Teachers and  students, scattered now, hear the awful news on radio and see the horrific pictures on television. They read the terrible lists of names of the dead as they come out in the papers. The death of the students is also the death of Opportunity, as it was originally planned. Several former Opportunity High students survive because the Jonestown basketball team had gone to Georgetown several days earlier. Some of the boys were Cobra team members.

More teachers leave Opportunity and articles about  the Temple and Jones continue to appear. In 1979, Ron, who has become a coach at Wilson, has a surprise visit from Tim and Stephan who appear at Silver Terrace Playground where there has been a game. The boys look very different.  Tim asks to throw a little batting practice –but his fire is gone.  He asks Ron if he can arrange a tryout for a semi-pro team. He agrees, and they part.

Chapter Nine takes place thirty years later. There is a “roll call” of the team which tells about who lived and who died, and how, of the Cobras, and the story of those in Creative Writing class and others who perished, or whose story is not known, with more student writing.  Junior, with whom Judy has lost touch, makes a visit with his family. Manny Blackwell, Hugh Dineen, Bruce Dixon, Cary McClellan, and several others agree to meet with us and tell us what they remember about those school days how they have fared.  We learn from Manny, who was in the Creative Writing class, and on the Cobra baseball team, that he had been a member of the Temple who convinced his mother and sister to slip away before the exodus to Jonestown.  Manny has spent his years working with young people through the San Francisco Recreation Department, where he is a supervisor and a mentor to many. Stephan’s writing (from this Website and in emails) tells his story.

Chapter Ten is Lawrence Wright’s beautifully written article, “The Orphans of Jonestown,” originally published in The New Yorker. Wright, author of The Looming Tower, interviewed Stephan, Tim and Jim Jones, Jr. We have his permission  to use the article.

The Afterword is a reflection on what the authors learned and what San Francisco to Jonestown tells us about the nature of teaching, the importance of getting to know students as people (especially in light of recent school tragedies), and what adults who care about young people can gather from this story.

Marketing Potential

And Then They Were Gone will appeal to all those interested in the story of Jonestown, especially since the 30th anniversary of the 918 deaths in Jonestown, Guyana, is November 18, 2008. Many have seen Stanley Nelson’s recent documentary (nominated for an Academy Award), The Life and Death of Peoples Temple at theaters across the country or on PBS.  Those interested in cults and religion in America will find this a valuable account. Parents and educators at both high school and university level will be interested in what they can learn from the tragedy that was Jonestown, especially in light of continuing school violence, from Columbine to more recent events. General readers will find an exciting read and get to know some engaging young people.