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Peoples Temple Collection
MS-0183  
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Collection Details
 
Table of contents What's This?
  • Overview of the Collection
  • Historical Note
  • Scope and Contents
  • Arrangement of Materials
  • Related Materials
  • Index Terms
  • Conditions Governing Access
  • Conditions Governing Use
  • Accruals
  • Other Information

  • Overview of the Collection

    Repository: Special Collections & University Archives: Finding Aid Database
    5500 Campanile Dr. MC 8050
    San Diego, CA, 92182-8050
    URL: http://hobbit.sdsu.edu/archon
    Email: scref@rohan.sdsu.edu
    Phone: 619-594-6791
    Fax: 619-594-0466
    Creator: Peoples Temple
    Title: Peoples Temple Collection
    Dates: 1972-1990
    Quantity: 30.77
    Abstract: This collection contains audiotape transcripts and summaries, audiotapes, photocopies of original unclassified documents from the federal government (on paper and also on other formats, including microfilm, microfiche, and compact disk), and newspaper and magazine articles related to the Peoples Temple Christian Church and the Peoples Temple Agricultural Settlement at Jonestown, Guyana. The two largest portions of this collection are invariably the audiotape transcripts and summaries, prepared by Fielding M. McGehee III and the Jonestown Institute, and the unclassified government documents obtained by McGehee and Dr. Rebecca Moore and through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
    Identification: MS-0183
    Language of Materials: The records are in: English

    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.
    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.

    Scope and Contents

    This collection contains audiotape transcripts and summaries, audiotapes, photocopies of original unclassified documents from the federal government (on paper and also on other formats, including microfilm, microfiche, and compact disk), and newspaper and magazine articles related to the Peoples Temple Christian Church and the Peoples Temple Agricultural Settlement at Jonestown, Guyana. The two largest portions of this collection are invariably the audiotape transcripts and summaries, prepared by Fielding M. McGehee III and the Jonestown Institute, and the unclassified government documents obtained by McGehee and Dr. Rebecca Moore and through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
    The audiotapes and typed transcripts span the years of Peoples Temples existence, from the 1950s through November 1978 and contain sermons delivered by Jim Jones, conversations between Jones and his followers or various public figures, Jonestown meetings that discussed Peoples Temple ideologies as well as issues within the settlement, news broadcasts by Jones, various radio broadcasts from Jonestown, and recordings of Russian language lessons. As a supplement to the transcript summaries, a Personal Name Index has been prepared as a part of this finding aid to facilitate further research of the audiotapes and transcripts by enabling the researcher to find the transcript on which an individual name is mentioned. Tapes retrieved by the FBI at Jonestown are identified by the letter Q, followed by a number (e.g., Q 134), which was arbitrarily assigned by the FBI after the agency's initial review of the audiotapes. In addition to the FBI audiotapes, the collection contains 24 tapes of Federal Communications Commission (FCC) recordings of Temple shortwave radio traffic.
    The government documents include a collection of various papers retrieved from Jonestown that include personnel files and member profiles; financial and medical inventories and records; affidavits, letters, and diaries written by Peoples Temple members; contact information between Jonestown and various countries; and documents of contact between Peoples Temple and various U.S. government agencies. In addition to the documents retrieved at Jonestown, there are documents and files prepared by the FBI after the November 18 mass deaths, such as autopsy reports and fingerprint identification documents. Although occasionally somewhat obscure, the FBI's original numbering and labeling system for these files has been retained in this collection. Finally, the documents include the FBI's Guyana Evidence Index, a guide to access the Temple papers in its collection; this guide is valuable principally to show the FBI's methods in classifying the Temple materials, as it is outdated and no longer in use by the agency.
    This collection also contains various newspaper and magazine publications printed after the Jonestown mass murder/suicide, with dates ranging from November 1978 to January 1979, as well as two movie posters, and one piece of artwork.

    Arrangement of Materials

    I. Transcripts
    II. Audio cassette recordings
    III. FBI Files
    IV. Related Materials
    V. Newspapers
    VI. Oversized Materials

    Related Materials

    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. Photographs, MSP 3802
    Graduate Theological Union Archives, 2400 Ridge Road, Berkeley, California 94709 (http://library.gtu.edu/archives/)
    1. Center for the Study of New Religious Movements Collections (1977-1983), GTU 91-9-3

    Index Terms

    This Collection is indexed under the following controlled access subject terms.

    Genre/Form of Material:

    Audio Recordings
    Organizational Records
    Publications

    Geographic Name:

    Guyana -- Religion -- Sources

    Personal Name:

    Jones, Jim, 1931-1978

    Topical Term:

    Jonestown Mass Suicide, Jonestown, Guyana, 1978 -- Sources
    Mass suicide -- Guyana -- History -- 20th century -- Sources
    Peoples Temple -- History -- Sources

    Conditions Governing Access

    This collection is open for research.

    Conditions Governing Use

    The copyright interests in the materials found in this collection have not been transferred to San Diego State University. Special Collections and University Archives can only grant permission to publish materials for which it is the copyright holder. For further information, please consult the section on copyright in the rules for using the collections, or contact the United States Copyright Office at (202) 707-3000 or http://www.loc.gov/copyright/.)

    Accruals

    2003-2004

    Other Information

    A personal name index to the transcribed audio tapes is available in the Lewis A. Kenney Reading Room.