It’s the 30-year anniversary of the mass murder/suicide at Jonestown. The toll was chilling: more than 900 lives ended, including 305 innocent children. We should never forget the deadly consequences of the cult of personality. A memorial was unveiled today in Oakland:
On the 30th anniversary of the Jonestown disaster Tuesday, organizers of an annual memorial service displayed the first panels of a 36-foot-long stone wall that is to be inscribed with the names of more than 900 victims of the violence in Guyana.
In the years since, efforts to create a monument have dragged on for lack of funding.
But the Rev. Jynona Norwood on Tuesday pulled covers from two shiny black granite slabs on sturdy trailers parked at Evergreen Cemetery, where more than 400 unidentified and unclaimed bodies of Jonestown’s victims are buried in a mass grave.
Mourners gasped and tearful survivors scattered red and black carnations on the panels.
“Touch their names because touching their names is very healing,” said Norwood, who lost 27 relatives in the 1978 mass murders and suicides orchestrated by Peoples Temple founder Jim Jones. “Finally, they have a resting place.”
The work for the memorial, however, is far from complete.
Despite a $30,000 down payment, another $70,000 or more must be raised to complete the 7-foot-tall monument with an 8-foot red granite central panel bearing the names of 305 children who perished in Jonestown.
The crowd of almost 200—including temple survivors and relatives of the victims—was one of the largest since Norwood started holding services to honor Jonestown’s dead.
When Jones ordered his followers to commit suicide, more than 900 members drank cyanide-laced, grape-flavored punch. Others were shot by guards loyal to Jones.
In recent years, more survivors have been attending the service, as it has become more widely accepted that they were ordinary people betrayed by a charismatic minister who lured them to an integrated church with programs for the poor.
The carnage occurred after 15 members defected during Rep. Leo Ryan’s fact-finding mission to Jonestown.
Temple gunmen killed Ryan, three journalists and a defector on a nearby airstrip—and all of their names will be on the monument, Norwood said.
More on the enablers of Jim Jones:
The Reverend Jim Jones will always be remembered as the Ukiah-based cult leader who led 909 followers to their deaths in Jonestown, Guyana, having them drink from vats of poisoned Kool-Aid. Yet Jones, who established a branch of his Peoples Temple church in San Francisco shortly before the infamous 1978 death trip, had supporters outside his congregation — among them, some of The City’s most respected leaders.
In 1976, then-mayor George Moscone appointed him, briefly, to The City’s Housing Authority Commission, perhaps in recognition of the enigmatic reverend’s generous contributions and outspoken support. That same year, an up-and-coming state assemblyman, Willie Brown, was effusive in his praise of Jones, calling him “a leader with tremendous character and integrity.” Years later, Brown defended his position, arguing that the Messiah from Ukiah, as he was dubbed in 1972 by Examiner religion writer Les Kinsolving, masked his madness convincingly.