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Peoples Temple Collection, 1942-2015Add to your cart.View associated digital content. | Special Collections & University Archives

Title: Peoples Temple Collection, 1942-2015Add to your cart.View associated digital content.
ID: MS-0183
Extent: 66.13 Linear Feet
Predominant Dates: 1972-2011
expand icon Historical Note

In 1954, a young preacher in Indianapolis, Indiana named James Warren Jones left his position with the Laurel Street Tabernacle of the Assemblies of God Pentecostal Church over the church's inability to accept racial integration. Together with other disaffected congregants, Jones founded a new, more open church named the Wings of Deliverance Church. As the congregation grew and gained mainline church affiliation, it adopted a new name: Peoples Temple Christian Church. Peoples Temple emphasized the need for racial integration and made social welfare projects its primary focus. As its views expanded, the congregation met much resistance from the public and thus was forced to move the location of the church numerous times. Eventually, Jones decided to leave Indiana. He chose the rural area of Redwood Valley in northern California as his destination after reading an article in Esquire magazine, which described it as one of the few places in the world that would survive a nuclear holocaust.

Redwood Valley and its nearest town, Ukiah, were idyllic, but they weren't perfect. Almost all-white, the area had difficulties of its own with a multiracial church. Jones acquired church facilities in San Francisco and Los Angeles, urban areas that were both more accepting of the Temples members and where the social services that the church offered were more needed. Jones eventually moved the main headquarters of the church to San Francisco but continued to minister in all three locations, sometimes during the same weekend.

Jones's sense of mission was not complete, however. Haunted by what he perceived as the inevitability of Americas nuclear annihilation and confronted on a daily basis with the inescapable racism he saw in American society, Jones looked elsewhere to build a utopian society which he referred to as the Promised Land. Its location was in Guyana, an English-speaking, black-governed socialist democracy on the north coast of South America. Beginning in 1974, Temple pioneers worked to construct the community formally known as the Peoples Temple Agricultural Mission, but better known as Jonestown, and leaders of the group planned for a slow, steady migration of Temple members to begin in mid-1977.

About that time, however, the Temple began receiving unfavorable news coverage generated by some of its apostates. The same disaffected members also filed lawsuits to reclaim property which they had previously donated to the church, as well as court petitions for custody of their relatives still in the church. Their allegations, and the press coverage of them, led to investigations by various federal and state government agencies, including ones that threatened the church's very existence, such as Internal Revenue Service. Jones' response was to speed up the migration to the Promised Land. What once was planned to extend over many months was reduced to a six-week period in late summer 1977.

Jones' problems didn't end there, though. The same Temple defectors, now united in an organization called Concerned Relatives, continued to call for government investigations and to press for decisions by American courts on their petitions. They also lobbied for congressional action, bringing their pleas to the attention of Leo Ryan (D-CA), the representative of several Temple members and families.

Congressman Ryan agreed to conduct a neutral, fact-finding mission in November of 1978 to assess the situation at Jonestown, but he took a number of Jones antagonists with him. Jones immediate inclination was to decline permission for a visit to the community, but his lawyers prevailed upon him to relent, and the Ryan party arrived in Jonestown on November 17. The visit seemed to go well on the first day, but on the second day, a number of Jonestown residents, unhappy with living and working conditions in the Promised Land, asked to leave with Ryan.

The events of the next few hours remain shrouded in mystery. What is known is that the Ryan party, now enlarged by 16 defectors, returned to a jungle airstrip at Port Kaituma, about five miles from Jonestown, in preparation to return to Guyana's capital of Georgetown and then back to the U.S. Shortly after their arrival at the airstrip, a tractor towing a flatbed trailer pulled up at the other end of the airstrip, and men on the trailer started firing weapons. A few minutes later, Ryan and four others were dead, and a half dozen more were wounded.

Meanwhile, back in Jonestown, Jones proclaimed that all was lost, and that when Guyanese military forces soon invaded the community, they shouldn't find anyone alive. According to a tape made during the final hours, Jones warned that they would be tortured, and that it was better to die by their own hands. Some of the few survivors deny that the deaths were by suicide, and point to the presence of guards and the injection marks found on many of the bodies. Whatever the circumstances, the results shocked the world: 909 dead at Jonestown, five dead at Port Kaituma, and four Temple members dead in Georgetown.

Author: Jennifer Martinez
expand icon Arrangement

I. Peoples Temple Christian Church

     1. Redwood Valley, Ukiah, and San Francisco, California

     2. Peoples Temple Agricultural Project (Jonestown)

     3. Post-Jonestown

II. Audiovisual Materials

     1. Audio Cassette Tapes, Summaries, and Transcripts

          a. Audio Cassette Tapes

          b. Summaries and Transcripts by the Jonestown Institute

          c. Summaries by the Federal Bureau of Investigation

     2. Photographs

          a. Peoples Temple Photographs

          b. Federal Bureau of Investigation Photographs

          c. Moore Family Photographs

          d. California Historical Society Photographs

          e. Time Magazine Photograph

     3. DVDs

     4. Compact Discs and Vinyl Records

     5. CD-ROMs

     6. VHS Tapes

     7. Microfilm and Microfiche

III. Investigation Files

     1. Federal Investigation

          a. Litigation Files

          b. Released Information

          c. Documents Related to Larry Layton's Petition for Commutation of Sentence

     2. Private Investigation

IV. Jonestown Institute Files

V. Publications

     1. Published and Unpublished Works of Fiction, Non-Fiction, and Drama

     2. Newspapers, News Magazines, and News Clippings

     3. Scanned News Clippings

     4. Correspondence Regarding Publications

VI. Original Works of Art

expand icon Administrative Information
Acquired: 2003. 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2012, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017
Restrictions: This collection is open for research.
Rights: The copyright interests in these materials have not been transferred to San Diego State University. Copyright resides with the creators of materials contained in the collection or their heirs. The nature of historical archival and manuscript collections is such that copyright status may be difficult or even impossible to determine.  Requests for permission to publish must be submitted to the Head of Special Collections, San Diego State University, Library and Information Access. When granted, permission is given on behalf of Special Collections as the owner of the physical item and is not intended to include or imply permission of the copyright holder(s), which must also be obtained in order to publish. Materials from our collections are made available for use in research, teaching, and private study. The user must assume full responsibility for any use of the materials, including but not limited to, infringement of copyright and publication rights of reproduced materials.
Acquisition Note: Rebecca Moore and Fielding McGehee III  Unclassified government documents were obtained by McGehee and Dr. Rebecca Moore and through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
Related Materials:

Alternative Considerations of Jonestown and Peoples Temple, sponsored by the Department of Religious Studies at San Diego State University.

San Diego State University Special Collections and University Archives:

     Jones Family Memorabilia Collection, (1962-2002), MS-0516

     Ann Elizabeth Moore Papers, (1956-1978), MS-0526

     Rebecca Moore Papers, (1951-2013), MS-0521

California Historical Society, North Baker Research Library, 678 Mission Street, San Francisco, California  94105 (www.californiahistoricalsociety.org)

     1. Peoples Temple Records (1941-1983), MS 3800

     2. FBI Papers from Jonestown (1972-1978), MS 3801

     3. John R. Hall Research Materials (1978-1987), MS 3803

     4. Ross E. Case Papers (1961-1984), MS 4062

     5. Moore Family Papers (1968-1988), MS 3802

     6. Amateur movies documenting life at the Peoples Temple Agricultural Mission in Jonestown, Guyana. Digitized versions made available by the California Historical Society via the Internet Archive.

Graduate Theological Union Archives, 2400 Ridge Road, Berkeley, California  94709 (http://gtu.edu/library/information/special-collections)

     1. Center for the Study of New Religious Movements Collections (1977-1983), GTU 91-9-3

Preferred Citation: Identification of item, folder title, box number, Peoples Temple Collection, Special Collections and University Archives, Library and Information Access, San Diego State University.
Collection Material Type: Official Records
Other Note: A personal name index to the transcribed audio tapes is available online and in the Louis A. Kenney Reading Room.
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