I first met Johnny Brown in late 1972, shortly after I was ordained at Peoples Temple Christian Church in San Francisco.
I had no idea that prior to joining Peoples Temple, Johnny dealt drugs in the Fillmore District in San Francisco. What was obvious that he was well known in the community. After all, that’s where the church was – at the corner of Geary and Fillmore, the street that gave the district its name – and many members and visitors lived nearby.
Within a very short period of time, Johnny was taking on leadership responsibilities within the Temple and community as well. Some time later he married Ava Cobb, who was the eldest daughter of my wife Christine from a previous marriage. In my estimation, Ava was a dominant figure in the inner workings of the Temple staff and hierarchy, and through her position, Johnny was able to move into responsible positions a lot earlier then most of the rest of us who were being trained in leadership roles. It was a whole new experience for him and gave him more confidence in himself and acceptance fro m the membership.
At times when Johnny and I would stroll around the Fillmore District together, I was always impressed by his demeanor when approaching people on the street. More than knowing just about everyone we met, he had a deep and abiding respect for them. He would address the elderly men as “uncle” and the elderly women as “sister.” And he would always introduce me as Rev. Guy.
When the Black Muslim Temple opened their doors down the street from the Temple, Johnny Brown was instrumental in securing a friendly bond between them and us. This by itself made it easier for Jim Jones to get acquainted with their leadership in a very short period of time. At different times a group of us Temple members would dress up in black leisure suits and red ties, and march down the street to the Muslim Temple and take part in their service. It was a sight to behold! After a time it became obvious to the community and to city officials, that we were supportive of the Muslim membership, as they were of us. That would not have happened as smoothly and respectfully without Johnny’s calm and steady influence.
(Guy Young is a former member of Peoples Temple. His poem for this edition of the jonestown report is One Day. His previous articles and poems are here. He can be reached at email@example.com.)