“A combination of Martin King, Angela Davis, Albert Einstein [and] Chairman Mao”
In the 1950s Jim Jones began his People’s Temple in his home state of Indiana. In 1960 Jones was appointed to a local government position in Indianapolis where he championed the rights of local blacks. With his wife, Jones adopted several children including one Native American and three Korean. In 1961 they became the first white couple to adopt a black child in Indiana. The following year Jones stopped off in Guyana during a trip to Brazil to find a new home for the People’s Temple. He returned to Indiana in 1965 and predicted that the world would be devastated by a nuclear war on 15 July 1967. He moved the Temple to Redwood Valley, California for safety.
It was about this time that Jones began to reveal that his organization was very left wing: “If you’re born in fascist America, then you’re born in sin. If you’re born in socialism, then you’re not born in sin.” He then began criticizing the Bible as a tool to subjugate women and black people. In 1975 the People’s Temple moved to San Francisco. Leading political figures feted Jones both publicly and privately. One descried him as “a combination of Martin King, Angela Davis, Albert Einstein [and] Chairman Mao.” Despite being referred to as the Reverend Jim Jones, he was actually an atheist.
In 1974 he had began building Jonestown, a socialist paradise in Guyana. In that country relations became strained and in November 1978 Congressman Leo Ryan of South San Francisco led a deputation to address reported human rights’ abuses in Jonestown. They arrived in Georgetown, Guyana, on 15 November, travelling to Jonestown two days later. The next day Temple member Don Sly attacked Congressman Ryan with a knife. Later that day, as Congressman Ryan and his party, along with 15 members of the Temple who wanted to return to America, tried to leave, Jones’s cohorts attacked them, killing Mr Ryan and five others. The death of Congressman Ryan was the only time a member of Congress has been murdered in the course of his duty.
Jonestown; Port Kaituma Airstrip, Guyana
Saturday 18 November 1978
Realizing that the world was about to fall on his head, Jones returned to the compound where more than 900 of his 1,000 or so followers, including 276 children, committed mass suicide by drinking grape Flavor Aid laced with cyanide. Jones died of a gunshot wound to the head. The commune of Jonestown was destroyed by fire in the mid 1980s.