Jonestown Survivor Answers Student’s Questions

Jonestown Survivor Answers Questions from Students Studying Peoples Temple and Jonestown

Hi there.

Thank you for your questions. I have two reminders – First, I speak ONLY for myself. Each survivor has a unique perspective and I don’t pretend I represent any one else. Second, these are short answers to complicated questions. They are not full answers. Many books have been written, movies made, articles and research papers penned – and it has not all been covered yet. Research well, check many sources. We have a lot we can learn about both Peoples Temple and the wider issues.

1. What events were going on at the time that could have inspired Jonestown/The Peoples Temple?  The decade of the 1960s was the most violent time I know of in US history – since the Civil War. In those ten years, Martin Luther King, John Kennedy, Bobby Kennedy, Malcolm X, Medgar Evers, and numerous leaders in our communities and in our country were murdered. Vigilantes – often assisted by those in government – were disrupting our political process. In that time, the Black Panthers formed to protect their communities, Cesar Chavez became a national hero as a leader of the farm workers, who had become modern slaves, the American Indian Movement was active in protecting the abused Native Americans. The “voiceless” members of our country were forced to speak up to protect themselves. And then, in the mid and late 1960s, we became embroiled in Vietnam – a war for profit, with our soldiers dying – and shown on television. That was the setting in which Peoples Temple was born and thrived.

2. How would you describe the people in the Temple? The people who joined Peoples Temple were committed to changing the world we lived in, changing our day-to-day lives, and making the world better for everyone.  Here is what I wrote to another student recently: The people of Peoples Temple were the finest, most dedicated, and wonderful people I ever met. They had committed to making the world better at great sacrifice even before they were murdered in Jonestown. I have yet to find a group as committed to justice and human service. They did not deserve that ending.

3. Why did you join the Peoples Temple/what appealed to you about the Temple?  I was very involved in politics in the 1950s and 1960s – as was my mother. By the time I came to Peoples Temple in 1970, I had demonstrated all along the East Coast, had worked and lived with the Black Panthers, and was determined to not sit passively while bullies took over the country. Jim seemed to be the kind of leader who lived in a way consistent to his sermons – adopted children of all races, frequent conversations with other activists of the time, and with a wonderful group activists of all ages and races. It seemed like a good fit.

4. What inspired you to move with the Peoples Temple to Guyana? First of all, I am a born traveler. I have traveled around the world to China, India, Europe, etc. So traveling is in my blood and was then too. Also, all of us in Peoples Temple thought we could build our very own community without racism, or violence, and without the drugs and alcohol that put so many of our youth at risk. I was delighted about the move. I was delighted about the opportunity to make a racism-free new community of our own – and a model for others.

5. What was life like directly after the massacre? Did anything change? Everything changed. There was no more Peoples Temple. Those of us who survived ran from any organization or strong leader, or movement. We were traumatized and grief-stricken. We have PTSD to this day.

6. Is there anything else I should I know or look at?  There are multitudes of things for you to research – and the best place is the website: http://jonestown.sdsu.edu/. That is the “Alternative Considerations of Jonestown & Peoples Temple website. It is the hub.

7. Are there other people to contact? Check out the list of the Jonestown Institute Speakers’ Bureau.