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Finding aid to Peoples Temple miscellany, 1951-2013, MS 4126
MS 4126  
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Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Access
  • Publication Rights
  • Preferred Citation
  • Separated Materials
  • Related Collections
  • Acquisition Information
  • Accruals
  • System of Arrangement
  • History of Peoples Temple
  • Scope and Contents
  • Processing Information

  • Title: Peoples Temple miscellany
    Date (inclusive): 1951-2013
    Collection Identifier: MS 4126
    Extent: 17.0 boxes
    Contributing Institution: California Historical Society
    678 Mission Street
    San Francisco, CA, 94105-4014
    (415) 357-1848
    Location of Materials: Collection is stored onsite.
    Language of Materials: Collection materials are in English.
    Abstract: Peoples Temple miscellany consists of miscellaneous materials about Peoples Temple arranged by California Historical Society staff into a single, ongoing collection. Acquired at different times from a variety of donors, materials in the collection include correspondence, notes, scrapbooks, journals, clippings, publications, audio recordings, realia and television documentaries about Peoples Temple and Jonestown, its agricultural mission in Guyana.


    Collection is open for research.

    Publication Rights

    All requests to reproduce, publish, quote from or otherwise use collection materials must be submitted in writing to the Director of the Library and Archives, North Baker Research Library, California Historical Society, 678 Mission Street, San Francisco, CA 94105. Consent is given on behalf of the California Historical Society as the owner of the physical items and is not intended to include or imply permission from the copyright owner. Such permission must be obtained from the copyright owner. Restrictions also apply to digital representations of the original materials. Use of digital files is restricted to research and educational purposes.

    Preferred Citation

    [Identification of item], Peoples Temple miscellany, MS 4126, California Historical Society

    Separated Materials

    Photographs have been removed and transferred to Photographs from Peoples Temple miscellany, 1966-1978, MSP 4126.

    Related Collections

    Manuscript Collections:
    Peoples Temple records, 1922-1984, MS 3800
    Federal Bureau of Investigation collection of Peoples Temple papers from Jonestown, Guyana, 1931-1978, MS 3801
    Moore family papers, 1968-1988, MS 3802
    John R. Hall research materials on Peoples Temple, 1954-2003, MS 3803
    Ross E. Case collection pertaining to Peoples Temple, 1961-1984, MS 4062
    Margaret T. Singer materials on Peoples Temple, 1956-1998, MS 4123
    Peoples Temple ephemera and publications, 1959-1979, MS 4124
    Newspaper clippings on Peoples Temple: photocopies, 1953-1978, MS 4125
    Photography Collections:
    Photographs from Peoples Temple miscellany, 1966-1978, MSP 4126
    Photographs from Peoples Temple records, 1941-1983, MSP 3800
    Photographs of Peoples Temple in the United States and Guyana, 1967-1978, PC 010

    Acquisition Information

    Materials in Peoples Temple miscellany have been acquired at different times from a variety of donors. Most of the materials in the collection were donated to the California Historical Society by surviving members of Peoples Temple, their families, and friends. Other materials were received from members of the general public and various media and production companies.


    Additions to the collection are expected.

    System of Arrangement

    Peoples Temple miscellany is arranged in 8 series: Series 1: Members' and families' papers; Series 2: Miscellaneous records and papers; Series 3: FBI releases; Series 4: Jonestown memorials; Series 5: Television, film and audio recordings; Series 6: Realia; Series 7: Ephemera; Series 8: Publications.
    The arrangement of the collection was imposed by California Historical Society staff.

    History of Peoples Temple

    Peoples Temple began as a church founded by Jim and Marceline Jones and a small group of parishioners in Indianapolis in 1955. As pastor, Jim Jones preached to a racially-integrated congregation during Pentecostal-based services that included healings and sermons on integration and class conflicts. Peoples Temple conducted food drives; opened a "free restaurant" that served thousands of meals to the city's poor in the early 1960s; operated nursing homes; and hosted weekly television and radio programs featuring their integrated choir. The church became well known in the Indianapolis press for the members' integration activities and for their assertions of their pastor's gifts as a healer. The church became affiliated with the Disciples of Christ denomination in 1960.
    In the summer of 1965, the Jones family and approximately one hundred Peoples Temple members relocated to Redwood Valley, a rural community eight miles north of Ukiah in Mendocino County. Peoples Temple conducted church services and meetings in rented and borrowed spaces until 1969 when they finished building their own church with a swimming pool, an animal shelter, gardens, and a community kitchen. By this time, the church's membership had grown to three hundred.
    In 1970, Jim Jones began to preach in cities throughout California. Recruiting drives in African American communities in San Francisco and Los Angeles increased Peoples Temple membership to over twenty-five hundred by 1973. Some members lived in communal housing and worked full time for Peoples Temple. Others contributed significant portions of their income and property to the church. The church's operations included real estate management; home care facilities for seniors and youths; publishing and bookkeeping services; mail order services; and maintenance of a fleet of buses to transport members to services throughout the state and across the country. Tens of thousands of people, including politicians and members of other congregations, attended Peoples Temple services between 1970 and 1977.
    The leadership of Peoples Temple voted to establish an agricultural and rural development mission in Guyana, South America in the fall of 1973. Over the next two years, members traveled to Guyana to scout a location for the mission; establish a residence in Georgetown, the capital of Guyana; clear the land; and begin construction at the site. The building plans for the community which became known as Jonestown included farm buildings, a large communal kitchen, medical facilities, schools, dormitory-style housing, small cabins, a day care center and a large open-air pavilion that became the community's central meeting place.
    By 1976, Peoples Temple had moved its headquarters from Redwood Valley to San Francisco and had become involved in citywide electoral politics. They published their own newspaper, Peoples Forum; staged rallies and events for local and national political figures; and were vocal in their support of causes such as freedom of the press, affirmative action, and gay rights. In the fall of 1976, recently elected Mayor George Moscone appointed Jim Jones to the San Francisco Housing Authority. Jones served as its chairman until he left for Guyana the following year.
    In 1977, former members and relatives organized a group called the Concerned Relatives to protest Jones's treatment of church members. Child custody issues and living conditions in Jonestown were at the center of the conflict between Peoples Temple and the Concerned Relatives. Both sides filed lawsuits, sought public support through the media, and appealed to government officials for protection. Media coverage of Peoples Temple practices and political activities led the government to investigate the church's financial and social welfare programs. Peoples Temple began to close many of their businesses, sell their properties, and relocate hundreds of their members to Guyana.
    In response to issues raised by the media and former members, California Congressman Leo Ryan scheduled a trip to Jonestown in November 1978. By this time, more than a thousand Peoples Temple members were living in Guyana. His staff, members of Concerned Relatives, Embassy officials, and journalists accompanied Ryan on an overnight visit to Jonestown. As the congressional party left for the airstrip at Port Kaituma, sixteen disaffected Jonestown residents accompanied Ryan. As the group boarded two small airplanes at the airstrip, Peoples Temple members drove up on tractors and began shooting. They killed Ryan, three journalists, and a Peoples Temple member. That same day, November 18, 1978, more than nine hundred people died, most by cyanide poisoning, in Jonestown; four other members died in Georgetown.
    More than eighty Peoples Temple members survived the deaths in Guyana: people who lived through the airstrip shootings; Jonestown residents who left the community before and during the poisonings; and members who were in Georgetown and on boats. Hundreds of Peoples Temple members had remained in the U.S., many of them in California.

    Scope and Contents

    Peoples Temple miscellany consists of miscellaneous materials about Peoples Temple arranged by California Historical Society staff into a single, ongoing collection. Acquired at different times from a variety of donors, materials in the collection include correspondence, notes, scrapbooks, journals, clippings, publications, audio recordings, realia, and television documentaries. The collection includes records pertaining to individual members of Peoples Temple, the activities of the church, life in Jonestown, and the aftermath of the events of November 18, 1978.
    Materials in Series 1, Members' and families' papers, were received from surviving members of Peoples Temple or from families and friends of members who died in Jonestown. Records in this series include an unpublished college paper by the son of a former member; stories and artwork created by children of Peoples Temple members; letters between Guyanese and U.S. embassy staff and parents seeking information about their children in Jonestown; and some of Jim Jones' personal papers, including newspaper clippings, academic records, and certificates.
    Series 2, Miscellaneous records and papers, consists of miscellaneous records created by or concerning Peoples Temple or associated organizations and individuals. Records in this series includes high school journal writings by children of Peoples Temple members who attended Opportunity High School in San Francisco; papers from a theatrical production about Peoples Temple; personal correspondence between the American and Guyanese lawyers for Peoples Temple; lists of supply orders from Jonestown transmitted by radio to the headquarters of Peoples Temple in San Francisco; Bible teaching materials created by Peoples Temple members; and a signed petition to Congressman Leo Ryan opposing his visit to Jonestown.
    Series 3, FBI releases, consists of three compact discs obtained from the FBI by the California Historical Society under the auspices of the Freedom of Information Act. The CDs contain information regarding the FBI’s investigation into the murder of Congressman Leo Ryan on November 18, 1978.
    The records in Series 4, Jonestown memorials, concern various installations and events planned, designed, or created to memorialize those who died in Jonestown. Records in this series include donation forms for a planned Jonestown Memorial Wall at Evergreen Cemetery in Oakland, California, ephemera and reviews of Laura Baird’s art installations about Peoples Temple, Jonestown Carpet and Jonestown Dead, and a 30th anniversary reading of the names of all those who died on November 18, 1978.
    Series 5, Television, film, and audio recordings, consists of Peoples Temple choir recordings of He’s Able, the album produced in 1973 at Brotherhood Records in San Francisco, and video tapes and DVDs of television documentaries produced after the events of 1978. The series also includes a feature film, video-taped news and press conference footage, and ephemera and articles relating to the 2006 documentary Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple.
    Series 6, Realia, consists of objects created or used by Peoples Temple members. Objects include a choir robe worn by Jim Jones, a wooden crate made to transport materials between the United States and Guyana, and a wooden sign engraved with the name of Dr. Laurence Schacht, head of the medical clinic in Jonestown. Other objects were used to raise funds for Peoples Temple and include a handmade candle sold through the Peoples Temple mail-order department, as well as toys and jewelry created in Jonestown and meant for sale to help support the settlement.
    Series 7, Ephemera, consists of ephemera about Peoples Temple created by other sources. This series contains a set of Cult of Death trading cards published by Carnage Press in 1988.
    Series 8, Publications, is made up of published articles and newsletters about Jonestown and Peoples Temple.

    Processing Information

    The collection was re-processed by Frances Wratten Kaplan in 2011.

    Subjects and Indexing Terms

    Jones, Jim, 1931-1978
    Peoples Temple.
    Ryan, Leo J.--Assassination.
    Jonestown (Guyana)
    Jonestown Mass Suicide, Jonestown, Guyana, 1978.
    Phonograph records.
    Video recordings.