Jonestown Survivor is Soliciting Guyanese Writers to Share Reflections of Jonestown

WHY a Guyana Section of the jonestown report?

Laura Johnston Kohl

I am delighted to share that I will be the Assistant Editor of the Guyanese Perspective section of the annual jonestown report, published by Fielding Mc'gehee and The Jonestown Institute.

My journey to understanding Peoples Temple started with me looking through a my life and my pain. Then, I widened out my view to include my fellow survivors, and a growing group of those also affected by the deaths and Peoples Temple. I gradually moved beyond the smaller circle into a more global understanding. When I returned to the United States in late 1978, after living in Guyana for nearly two years, I was a shattered, confused, and most certainly lucky survivor of the murders in Guyana. For twenty years, my focus was on me – how was I to survive? I even questioned IF I wanted to survive.

At the twentieth Jonestown anniversary, I met back up many other survivors and we began to piece together many of the hidden, or denied, truths about Jim Jones, and the Peoples Temple mystique. Even then, the focus was on us and our loss, and our survival. For my time in Guyana, in Jonestown, Georgetown, and many other parts of the coastal areas around Georgetown, I was in love with the culture, the warmth of all people I met, the inclusion of all races in governance, and with the beauty. I had made good friends and I missed them. Still, I had limited perspective on how the calamity of Jonestown affected Guyana as a nation, and individuals within the country.

Three main themes began to have a life of their own in my understanding of the enormity of the Jonestown event. One thing that amazed me was that still, after twenty or thirty, or now almost forty years later, there is still curiosity about everything that happened. There is a lesson that can’t be forgotten so easily – and people are continuing to study it and research it, and talk about it. I finally got to see that it was not just me and my story. It was not just us, and OUR story. It was a calamity around the world that people heard about and were included in.

The second reminder was when I met these good friends. About ten years ago, in San Diego, I met Eusi and Tchaiko Kwayana. Eusi is Guyanese, a revered member of the government for years. He and his brilliant and dedicated wife – a lifelong teacher in and out of school – had a huge impact on widening my perspective. I am so sorry that Tchaiko died this summer. I miss her and her fervor for restoring the world to balance and justice. I have had many contacts with Eusi and Tchaiko over the years. I was fortunate to be able to write the Foreword for Eusi’s book, A New Look at Jonestown from the Guyanese Perspective. It created an itch in me – a sense that I was not widening out my view or understanding enough.

At this same time, I began studying Peoples Temple as not only a survivor, but as a participant in the culture of the 1960s and 1970s. I knew that Peoples Temple and Jim Jones did not just appear on the landscape of the Bay Area from the mist. The Bay Area was, in many ways, the center of the activist movement. The Panthers, the American Indian Movement, the Brethren, the Nation of Islam, Glide Memorial Church, and the UFW were all in close proximity and they created a synergy of activism. As a brilliant entrepreneur and certainly of a power-seeking man, Jim Jones was drawn to the area. He played the part of a unifier of all these groups in the acceptable form of a white, religious man. He could preach and insist on human rights without terrorizing the local and state government. I was already broadening my understanding of how Jim outpaced other leaders and amassed control in certain sections of the Bay Area.

Somehow, as a result of this widening perspective, I was able to see that we who lived and loved in Guyana had never stopped to hear what the Guyanese thought, experienced, and carry around to this day. It seemed like an oversight that I needed to address. I have sought out people from all sectors of the Guyanese community and have included their sentiments and writings in the Guyanese Section this year. I have learned so much! And I have a growing admiration for the people that we – Jim Jones and members of Peoples Temple – really blindsided. They have amazing and valuable insights!

I am so delighted to include this relevant and important addition to understanding Peoples Temple and Jonestown, from the Guyanese point of view.

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