“I represent divine principle, total equality, a society where people own all things in common, where there’s no rich or poor, where there are no races. Wherever there are people struggling for justice and righteousness, there I am.” -Jim Jones (Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple). Reverend Jim Jones was the captivating leader of the Peoples Temple, a religious organization that progressed from 1955 through the mid-1970s. It was a thriving community up until November 18, 1978, the day that the members of Peoples Temple willingly took their own lives; creating the largest mass suicide in modern day history. At the command of Jim Jones a total of 909 members drank Kool Aid spiked with cyanide, a doing in which he referred to as “revolutionary suicide protesting the conditions of an inhumane world” (Jamestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple). With the murder of Congressman Leo Ryan and others from his staff on Jones’ hands, he led his followers to believe that the government was undoubtedly going to retaliate and torture and kill the people of the community, including the children and elderly. He convinced his followers that the only way to escape the impending torture is to lay themselves to rest and “die with dignity” (Jamestown- The Life and Death of Peoples Temple). Although of these deaths cannot all be granted as suicide, particularly the children and young people under majority age, there were still hundreds of people who held on to the words of Jim Jones and followed them, ending their lives. However the question remains: What reasons lead to the accumulation of such willing and devoted followers?
During the early 1960’s was a time of optimism; a belief that the people of America could change the world for the better through social movements. However with events such as the Vietnam War, oppositions of the traditional church, the assassinations of major revolutionary idols, and the resignation of President Richard Nixon led to nothing but hopelessness for the people of America.
The People’s Temple was founded in 1955 by Indianapolis preacher Reverend James “Jim” Jones. During the founding years of Jones’ organization he had a remedial amount of followers. Jones, who had no official theological practice, built his enlightened ministry on a blend of religious and social values. As the years went on his teachings helped to offer hope to his followers in desperate times. Jones’ actions and ways of preaching were ahead of his time and the residents of Indianapolis did not welcome his advocacy of integration with open arms. They attacked Jones and The Temple with intimidation and hatred. In addition to the antagonism, the larger issue of the Cold War was hanging over Jones’ head. Esquire Magazine posted an article listing places on earth where survival of a nuclear war could be possible, with California included as one of the listed locations. Being that California was considered a progressive state Jones believed it would be the ideal place to establish his inter-racial organization. Once he got himself and his followers to Ukiah, California his church was able to flourish and make strides. In what started off as a “family” of eighty-one people in spring of 1966, by 1971 that family grew by to the thousands and became an organization. According to the documentary, Jonestown- The Life and Death of Peoples Temple,” during his sermons, Jim Jones spoke about things that his followers could relate to, like for example how the government doesn’t take care of them and that there were too many poor people in America. There had been a huge upswing people in party colonialized countries who were taking revolutionary steps against imperialism. America desired to draw a line against the decolonialization process happening in the world. Vietnam was the outcome. Despair was at a high point for Americans as the death count rose higher and higher each day. It ultimately resulted in the