Books

Carlton B. Goodlett, Handservant to Evil, Honored in San Francisco

City Hall in San Francisco, Calif. (Kate Munsch/Reuters)
To this day, a prominent public square is named for the doctor who, even after the massacre in Guyana, boosted Jim Jones.

In September, San Francisco removed a statue near the public library depicting a Native American laying at the feet of a Spanish cowboy and a Catholic missionary. The city’s Historic Preservation Committee voted unanimously to remove the “Early Days” display. The Arts Commission dubbed the 2,000-pound sculpture “disrespectful, misleading, and racist” in unanimously voting to censor it.

Anyone looking at the “Early Days” void, with back toward Hyde Street, glimpses another questionable public honor, Carlton B. Goodlett Place, the street that gives city hall its address.

Goodlett, a pediatrician and newspaper publisher who once called San Francisco “one of the most racist cities in America,” surely would have applauded the removal of the 124-year-old statue. But after Goodlett’s ignominious role in the most horrific tragedy in San Francisco history, why would the city honor him by placing his name on its most prominent address?

A friend, booster, benefactor, and business partner of Jim Jones, Goodlett enthusiastically promoted Peoples Temple as a force for good and Jonestown as an idyllic community even when Bay Area newspapers other than his own presented overwhelming evidence to the contrary. In researching Cult City: Jim Jones, Harvey Milk, and 10 Days That Shook San Francisco, I found archived documents showing that Goodlett eclipsed even Willie Brown and Harvey Milk in heaping uncritical, fawning praise on Jones.

In 1972, Goodlett recognized Jones with an award from his Sun-Reporter newspaper. The publisher printed Peoples Forum, the Temple’s propaganda organ. In 1977, Goodlett proudly accepted the Martin Luther King Humanitarian Award alongside fellow winner Jones. He helped organize the cult leader’s pilgrimage to Cuba that year for a summit with Black Panther leader Huey Newton. The following year, Goodlett visited Jonestown months prior to the cataclysm, announcing that the concentration camp masquerading as a commune “gives people hope,” shows that “dreams come true,” and represents “the wave of the future.”

Goodlett worked closely with those responsible for killing more than 900 in Guyana 40 years ago this Sunday. When American medical schools rejected Larry Schacht, the Jones follower and former drug addict who later oversaw the cyanide concoction that extinguished hundreds of lives, Goodlett helped him gain admittance to a medical school in Mexico and later to the University of California, Irvine. Later, Goodlett bizarrely compared Schacht to Albert Schweizer. Despite Goodlett’s serving as Jim Jones’s personal physician, the madness and drug addiction that enveloped the leader of the Peoples Temple escaped his mention and perhaps even his notice. He was one of the sponsors of “A Struggle against Oppression” — a fundraising dinner scheduled at San Francisco’s Hyatt Regency two weeks after the tragedy. The dinner was meant to benefit the very Peoples Temple Medical Program, which would poison more than 900 souls at gunpoint. The carnage necessitated the cancelation of the fundraiser, but it did not prompt contrition from Goodlett.

During a combative appearance on San Francisco public television station KQED two days after the massacre, the doctor described Jones as “a man who really attempted to practice the dogmas of Christianity.” Despite the many print exposés of Jones and the credible accusations by former followers that had mounted against Jones in the previous year, Goodlett told the television audience, “I could find nothing wrong with this man.”

He discovered faults more readily in others. He lashed out at the Concerned Relatives who labored to extract family members from South America, journalists who spoke the truth about Jones, and even Leo Ryan, the California congressman slain by a Temple goon squad outside Jonestown.

“From my point of view,” Goodlett maintained, speaking of Jones, “the good works of a man as well as his rascality — they are not interred with his bones.”

This stunning quote gives us perhaps the lone use of “rascality” to describe mass extermination.

Goodlett’s good works, which include civil-rights activism and a medical practice catering to the underserved, surely did not get buried with his bones. But San Francisco interred his, well, “rascality” — and traits far worse.

Those statue-smashers who are troubled by the imagery of an inanimate object strangely ignore that Carlton Goodlett’s close friend ran a plantation where blacks disproportionately worked in the fields and whites disproportionately worked them. When a beautiful teenage black girl rejected Jones’s advances in Jonestown, Jones forcibly drugged her into compliance. Ultimately, Jones killed more African Americans than any member of the Ku Klux Klan. And Goodlett aided and abetted Jones. His words carried weight with the poor people in the Temple and the powerful people in city hall. He misled more than 900, including more than 600 African Americans, luring them to their deaths by vouching for a racist psychopath.

Goodlett’s city, where Jim Jones once served as the chairman of its Housing Authority Commission, has long suffered from a blind spot regarding the cult leader’s evil. Even at the 40th anniversary of Jonestown, San Francisco still suffers from a blind spot regarding Jones’s enablers.

San Franciscans can no longer see the offensive “Early Days” statue. Many cannot see the offensiveness of Carlton B. Goodlett Place, either.

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