|The People's Temple
was founded in 1956 in Indianapolis by Rev. Jim Jones, a minister, sideshow
healer, and monkey salesman. When Jones took his act to San Francisco in
the '60s he set up shop at 1859 Geary Boulevard in the Fillmore. This U.S.
Post Office is now located on the site of the People's Temple. Jones's
well known interracial advocacy, fundraising, and voting strength of his
congregation made Jones attractive to political leaders here. He was courted
by then-Governor Jerry Brown, George Moscone, Willie Brown, Angela Davis,
Jane Fonda and even Rosalyn Carter. Future-Mayor Brown appeared at a testimonial
for Jones and made a speech in Jones's honor. Eighty percent of the People's
Temple congregation was black. Not bad for a man whose father was a member
of the Klu Klux Klan. Jones took a shine to the his new role as a political
character and gained a reputation as a father figure for the City's poor.
By 1976 Jones was running San Francisco's Housing Commission. He was also
a coke addict with a penchant for young girls and an Elvis fixation. In
order to escape mounting problems at home including a paternity suit and
increasing scrutiny of his congregation, Jones convinced a thousand people
to move with him to the jungles of Guyana on a 27,000-acre outpost leased
by the People's Temple and known as Jonestown.
On November 18, 1978, Congressman Leo Ryan, three reporters, and a Jonestown defector were killed by gunmen at the Port Kaituma airfield in Guyana after Ryan lead a team there to investigate human rights abuses at Jonestown. It had been reported in the Guyana Daily Mirror that Jonestown was a "concentration camp" where Jones's followers were given psycho-active drugs, raped, sleep deprived, fed rotten meat, and forced to work 18 hours a day. Friends and family members accused state and City officials of obstructing their efforts to intervene on behalf of their loved ones. On July 26, 1977 Mayor George Moscone announced that he would not investigation Jones. Even Supervisor Harvey Milk defended Jones as a friend to minority communities in a letter to President Jimmy Carter.
The same day Congressman Ryan and the others were killed, Jones ordered the congregation to drink from a vat of cyanide-laced grape Kool-Aid. Those who refused were shot or strangled. In all, 914 people were dead in the massacre including Jones himself and 276 children. When news of the massacre reached San Francisco its citizens were horrified over the tragic loss of nearly a thousand friends and family members from the Bay Area. Nine days later the City would be struck with another unspeakable and unexpected horror, the murders of Mayor Moscone and Supervisor Milk.
After the massacre, the People's Temple was implicated in earlier voter fraud that had benefited Jones's friends. Also, theories of CIA involvement in the Jonestown massacre linger in spite of findings by the U.S. government in 1980 that there was none. The CIA was linked to mind control experiments in San Francisco and to Jones through a U.S. embassy official. The Jonestown massacre figures prominently in Armistead Maupin's "Further Tales of the City."
See Also: Justin Herman's Fillmore
Copyright 2001 Hank Donat