JONESTOWN SURVIVOR AT BAY AREA BOOK FESTIVAL 2015

JONESTOWN SURVIVOR AT BAY AREA BOOK FESTIVAL 2015

               Last weekend, I hosted an Author’s Table at the Bay Area Book Festival, on Literary Lane in Berkeley. I met many old friends and met even more new ones. Whenever I do Book Talks around the country, I bring my photo boards with photos from many of the aspects of Peoples Temple. One poster shows many pictures from Jonestown, while the other shows photos of important milestones from the past thirty-six years since November 18, 1978. I also had my copy of Kathy Barbour’s newly-published book, Who Died, which is a photographic journal with pictures of each person who died in Jonestown and Georgetown.

               Berkeley was such a perfect setting for this event featuring authors and readers. We took up many blocks to show the diversity of books, but each block specialized in the genre. I shared an area with a child-incest survivor and author Tracy May, who wrote Keeping Mother’s Secrets, and Barbara Hawkins who wrote Behind the Forgotten Front,  about her father’s difficult journey through Burma. The synergy – or whatever – we three showed drew very interesting and interested readers. One Navy Vet who had seen fighting in Afghanistan stopped by and felt embraced by us all. Many others were drawn in as well. It was a cathartic and fulfilling day.

               The Bay Area has many connections with Peoples Temple and Jim Jones. Many of the survivors live there, as well as many relatives of both the survivors and those who died in Jonestown. And, many, many friends and acquaintances of all parts of Peoples Temple live there. Now that thirty-six years have passed, there is a distance that allows people to reflect on and discuss those times. It still breaks all our hearts. It will always do that. Some people came by and just looked, shook their heads, and kept walking.

               I interacted with people who had a deeper connection with the many different aspects of Peoples Temple. Many people remembered all too well about the 1970s. They could remember the good and the bad. Peoples Temple was very much a part of the fabric of both the political and social movements of the Bay Area for almost a decade.

               I met a woman who was a friend of Congressman Leo Ryan and the Ryan family, and a man who worked in Ron Dellums’ office at the time. He told me that Ron Dellums had planned to be a part of the Ryan trip down to Guyana, but had had to cancel the day before. I had never heard that. I knew that there was another member of Congress who had canceled out at the end, but not the frequent guest from our SF Peoples Temple building.

               A number of people stopped by the table because they knew people who died in Jonestown. There were many close friends and co-workers, including some who had even visited the Temple during that time. Some had heard their own relatives tell about contacts and friends they had within the Temple.

               I speak in a number of venues, and I have met people who never heard about Jonestown and have met with people who have spent many hours researching all the details. At this Bay Area event, people were all familiar with Peoples Temple. The horror of November 18 had been shared and discussed because everyone had a connection of some sort. Our members in the 1970s came from all communities around San Francisco and Oakland.

               An ominous cloud spread over the Bay Area in November 1978. Not only did the deaths in Jonestown affect most households, but also the murders of Mayor Moscone and Councilman Harvey Milk. After those events, many people just packed up all their feelings about that time, and stored them away. But, now, the suitcase may be opened and aired. That was the sense I had of those I spoke with during the Book Festival. People were ready to reflect and discuss it. I appreciated it because I never wanted the deaths of my friends to be forgotten, or to be minimized into a media sound-bite.  It seemed to resonate with everyone that we not forget these wonderful people who lost their lives. We have to cherish their memories even though the memories also bring pain, a terrible pain.

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