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On May 29, California’s San Jose Mercury News reported the headline:
“Historic Jonestown Memorial Unveiled in Peaceful Oakland Ceremony.”
“Survivors of a horrific history-making tragedy came together Sunday in the company of their loved ones, both living and dead, to honor not just the hundreds of deaths that bound them together in sorrow, but also the principles of compassion and love that united their lives.
“About half of the 918 people who died in the Jonestown, Guyana, tragedy on Nov. 18, 1978, are buried in Evergreen Cemetery, and scores of people attended the ceremony there Sunday to unveil a long-awaited memorial. …
“Leslie Wagner-Wilson, who was in her early 20s when she arrived in the primitive Jonestown camp and was one of 33 people to escape on foot mere hours before the tragedy began, said the monument was ‘not just a memorial wall – it’s a healing wall.’
“Jonestown is the subject of controversy to this day, as questions of culpability and the ripple effects of violence stir passionate disagreement. But among the most heated debates has been whether to include the name of Jim Jones on the memorial.
“Jones is the reviled leader who culled much of the Jonestown population from religious and activist communities in the wake of the civil rights movement.
“He is held responsible for brainwashing hundreds of people, many of whom wanted simply to keep building a better world, and forcing them to commit suicide on the day Rep. Leo Ryan, of San Mateo (California), arrived to investigate and was assassinated.
“Nonetheless, Jones’ name appears alongside all the others, in what Wagner-Wilson said is the spirit of forgiveness and inclusiveness she found absolutely necessary in her healing process.
“The inclusion of Jones’ name, however, infuriated many survivors, including Jynona Norwood, who has organized dozens of annual memorials at the same cemetery and worked for years to get a memorial built there.
“Norwood’s work to build a memorial wasn’t successful – the stones that were unveiled Sunday were the work of organizers including Jones’ adopted son, Jim Jones Jr. – and her efforts in court to stop the version with Jones’ name from being made public were turned down by a judge last week.
“She promised to protest the ceremony, calling Jones’ inclusion a deep insult to his victims, but she was not present Sunday, and the ceremony concluded without any disruption. Despite her conflict with the organizers, though, Norwood’s name was spoken with respect during the ceremony.
“‘I want to take a moment to appreciate the faithfulness of Jynona Norwood,’ said Rebecca Moore, a survivor whose husband was among the fundraising organizers for the memorial. Year in and year out, she said, Norwood has diligently worked for the well-being of her fellow survivors and organized numerous ceremonies to help them come together.”
I recall that Rebecca Moore is the daughter of former California Methodist District Superintendent John V. Moore, who, on April 21, 1975, issued a “To Whom It May Concern” letter in which he wrote:
“I have known the Rev. Jim Jones and the work of the People’s Temple for a number of years. In my judgment, other churches could learn from People’s Temple. Their concern and care for their members provides the qualities of family life which have been lost in so many churches.”
The Columbia Journalism Review reported:
“For years, the Rev. Jim Jones and his People’s Temple received special treatment from the San Francisco press. As Reed Irvine, editor of Accuracy in Media’s AIM Report, has pointed out, the San Francisco Examiner ran four out of eight articles, written by Lester Kinsolving, that exposed Jones as a charlatan back in 1972, then killed the series and ran a laudatory article about Jones ‘after being threatened with lawsuits and after … pickets from the People’s Temple began parading around their building’ and, as Irvine and others have pointed out, the San Francisco Chronicle gave Jones an even softer treatment.”
John Novotney, Washington correspondent for the Religious News Services, reported:
“‘I am honored to be No. 2 on this maniac’s hit list,’ the Rev. Lester Kinsolving said, commenting on a New York Times story listing him as an alleged ‘enemy’ of the Rev. Jim Jones to be killed following his death. ‘The leader of the People’s Temple colony at Jonestown, Guyana, more than 900 of whose members committed suicide or were murdered, named four persons specifically as targets of ‘hit squads’ organized by Jones. …
“‘Being on that hit list so effectively exposes the efforts of such big media as the San Francisco Chronicle and the Washington Post to cover up their disastrous failure to follow up, Carolyn Pickering of the Indianapolis Star and I exposed at length on front pages of two daily newspapers six years ago,’ noted Kinsolving.”
Among my most prize possessions is a certificate signed by 15 former members of the People’s Temple, who risked their lives in the Ukiah, Calif., area of the People’s Temple.
Led by Brenda Ganatos, a Ukiah telephone company employee, they wrote the following:
“We wish to express our sincere appreciation for your sole support in our efforts to expose Jim Jones’ People’s Temple 10 years ago in its earliest stages of madness.
“We commend you as a journalist, friend and fellow American for risking your life and job, because of your relentless investigative reporting and personal guidance.
“Although our pleas for investigation were ignored by our local media and government officials, our small group of defectors and concerned citizens, as well as yourself, do not feel the guilt that many reporters and other citizens now feel, since the senseless tragedy occurred in Guyana, knowing it could have been prevented years ago right here in Ukiah. …
“We thank you, Les, from the bottom of our hearts.”