Kool-Aid, Indiana, trans-racial adoption, and basketball
From Jon Fish and Chris Connelly at ESPN.com and leading into the network's "Outside the Lines" program tomorrow night (9:30AM, EDT; a significant portion of the program is available on the website as well)...And a hat tip to the C-J who reprinted a short USA Today article on this...
It is early February, and basketball has brought Rob Jones and his father, Jim Jones Jr., to senior night at San Francisco's Archbishop Riordan High School. Rob is the best high school basketball player in the Bay Area. He's 6-foot-6 and 230 pounds -- a forward with strength and quickness.
"His 'Wow!' factor is rebounding and positioning down low," says his coach, Rich Forslund. "He dominates at the high school level down there. Virtually anybody he plays, he gives them grief."
And this night is no exception: Rob racks up 30 points and 17 rebounds.
"It was his time, it was his moment," his father says with pride. "He made sure everybody knew it."
Rob's success holds special meaning for his father. Years ago, he also had a basketball team, a team he loved and will never forget.
"I wouldn't be talking to you if it wasn't for basketball," Jim Jones Jr. says. "It spared my life."
The words are not an empty cliché. They are true. Basketball kept this family alive, and now Rob and basketball are helping restore honor to the family name.
Why? Because the name "Jones" can be found in the history books and in news coverage from 29 years ago, linked to an infamous place called Jonestown. There, in November 1978, more than 900 men, women and children died in a mass suicide orchestrated by the Rev. Jim Jones, founder and leader of Jonestown -- and the grandfather of Rob Jones...
That history began after stops in Indiana and rural Northern California, when the Rev. Jones landed in San Francisco. [Jones was born in Crete or Lynn, IN and attended high school in nearby Richmond, before earning his bachelor's at Butler and going to grad school at IU in Bloomington.] There, in the mid-1970s, he used social activism, radicalized rhetoric and elements of that old-time religion, like purported acts of faith healing, to whip the multicultural congregation of Peoples Temple into a fervor. He was undeniably charismatic, and manipulative.
"My father was a master of finding what was most important to you [and] finding a way to make you believe he was giving it to you," says Stephan Jones, 48, the biological son of the Rev. Jones. "I know that's how I was worked."
The Rev. Jones became a political force in San Francisco politics. Yet when questions were raised about abuses within Peoples Temple, he moved his flock to South America and created a would-be utopia -- Jonestown -- in the jungles of Guyana, which neighbors Venezuela.
"I believed. I believed we could change the world," says Jim Jr., 47, who was the first African-American child in Indiana state history to be adopted by a white couple: the Rev. Jim and Marceline Jones.
But when the Rev. Jones arrived in Guyana for good in August 1977, some who already were there felt the magnetism that had created Peoples Temple was devolving into paranoia and madness.
"When Dad got down there," Stephan says, "work immediately went from being a means of production to a means of control … the atmosphere was immediately oppressive."
Jonestown was accessible only by boat or plane, a big change for people like Johnny Cobb who were accustomed to San Francisco.
"You know, you don't have the fast-food places to go to," says Cobb. "You don't have this corner store to go to. No television. … Within two months you find yourself reading more books. Start doing other things. Playing sports again."
So a basketball hoop was erected in the encampment, built on a platform floor in a place originally intended to be a storehouse. For the young men who played there, the game became a kind of organized defiance against the Rev. Jones...
A Guyanese government official offered them a chance to compete in a tournament against the region's national teams in the capital city of Georgetown, a two-hour plane ride away. The Rev. Jones agreed to let the team go, seizing a chance to get some good publicity for Peoples Temple...
On Nov. 7, 1978, one day after the team arrived in Georgetown, there was news from California. Then-U.S. Rep. Leo J. Ryan Jr. (D-Calif.) announced he would travel to Jonestown with former Peoples Temples members who had left the camp. He intended to investigate accounts of followers being held against their will and reports of suicide drills.
Stephan imagined what that news meant: "It was ugly when the congressman was coming and … it couldn't be a good thing to bring the U.S. government and the press and defectors down at the same time -- the three things my father hated most."
Ryan arrived in Guyana on Nov. 15. That day, at Peoples Temple headquarters in Georgetown, the Rev. Jones' voice came over the ham radio. He demanded that the players return to Jonestown immediately. But they refused..."We played the Guyanese the first day and honestly we got blown out by 30," says Jim Jr.
The teams played another tournament game two days later and lost by 10 points. That same night, Ryan had arrived in Jonestown, and Peoples Temple threw a party in the area known as the pavilion. There was music and singing, and Ryan addressed the crowd.
"I think you know that I'm here to find out more about questions that have been raised about your operation here," Ryan said. "But I can tell you right now that from the few conversations with folks here already this evening, that whatever the comments are, there are some people here who believe this is the best thing that ever happened to them in their whole life."
The pavilion erupted into joyful delirium. Wild cheering and applause filled the space. Scores of young faces -- men and women of every color, adults and children -- beamed. Less than 24 hours later, nearly everyone in the room would be dead.
The next day, Nov. 18, Ryan invited anyone who wanted to leave Jonestown with him to do so. More than a dozen followed. At the pavilion, there were scenes of rage and anguish. Families could be seen splitting apart on the spot amid bitter recriminations.
Ryan and his delegation left Jonestown. They were driven six miles to a dirt landing strip. As they were about to board their planes, a tractor pulled up alongside the landing strip and members of the Peoples Temple got out, aimed their rifles and opened fire.
Five people died, among them Ryan and NBC cameraman Bob Brown, whose camera was still rolling when he was shot and killed. Some of the victims were shot at point-blank range. An apocalypse had been set into motion...
The hours that followed were a blur of frantic movement and increasing desperation all over the capital city as members of the basketball team pleaded with authorities to get to Jonestown immediately...
At Jonestown, a vat of cyanide-laced Flavor Aid was being prepared. Mothers were instructed to bring their children forward first. The last audiotape from Jonestown, recorded by Peoples Temple members, captured the unimaginable horror, as the Rev. Jones beckoned his followers to the grave...
When it was over, more than 900 people were dead. The Rev. Jones was dead from a gunshot. The players on the basketball team had lost everyone they loved. Jim Jr. had lost his parents, his wife and their unborn child...
Jim Jr. returned to San Francisco, eventually married again, had three boys and put his life back together. But he avoided the game he had always enjoyed, until his eldest son brought it back.
"It wasn't until Robert showed an interest that I started coaching him," says Jim Jr. "And I've developed a love for it again."
"I thank God every day," says Rob, now a freshman forward at the University of San Diego. "I'm a real lucky man just to have a father and that he's there supporting me in whatever I do, no matter what."
"When I first saw the article, 'Jones leads Riordan to the top,' I just paused initially," says Jim Jr. "Our family name in the paper -- Jones leading anybody -- was leading them to not a very positive outcome. It just gave me a swell of pride that here's a Jones leading an organization or a program in a very positive direction."
Says Rob: "I'm proud just to do what I do and give the family a good name. That's probably been one of the greater feelings I've had in my life."
"I was known in basketball gyms as the son of the infamous Jim Jones," Jim Jr. says. "Now I'm known as the father of Rob Jones. That's a good feeling."