After trying single-handedly to effect change throughout the 1960s to make the world around her more humane, Laura Johnston Kohl found she needed more hands. She joined Peoples Temple in 1970, living and working in the progressive religious movement in both California and Guyana. A fluke saved her from the mass murders and suicides on November 18, 1978, when 913 of her beloved friends died in Guyana.
Soon after this, Synanon, a residential community, helped her gradually affirm life. She married, and she and her husband adopted a young son. In 1994, she finished her studies, and became a public school teacher.
On the 20th anniversary of the deaths in Jonestown, Laura located fellow survivors of the Jonestown tragedy, and together they have worked to make sense of the jigsaw puzzle that was Peoples Temple. Her perspective has evolved as new facts have cleared up mysteries and she has had time to reflect. Her mission continues to acknowledge, write about, and speak about why the members joined Peoples Temple, why they went to Guyana, and who they were. One of her earliest interviews, on National Public Radio during its coverage of the 25th anniversary of the deaths in Jonestown, was one of the inspirations for Stanley Nelson’s documentary, Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple.
In addition to being interviewed on television and radio, in documentaries, and for both domestic and foreign press, Laura makes herself available to family members of those who perished in Guyana and scholars who are trying to understand the calamity of the ending. She is contact with fellow survivors many times during the year and helps organize gatherings twice a year.
Her research and contemplation has led to publication of her book, Jonestown Survivor: An Insider’s Look. The website for the book is here, and its blog includes a number of articles separate from those published below.
Laura is a writer, a bilingual teacher, on the Speakers’ Bureau of The Jonestown Institute, a Quaker, and a Board Member of the Communal Studies Association. She is on the Advisory Committee at the California Historical Society for the Peoples Temple Archives.
She contributes to the jonestown report and writes a monthly article for a local progressive, bilingual paper. She is helping set up a survivors’ visit to Jonestown with a documentary crew. She is also working to develop a Communal Studies Journal issued dedicated to scholarly writings about Peoples Temple, to be published in 2018.
Laura’s lectures cover these topics and issues:
Reflections on Peoples Temple
Surviving tragedy and survivor’s guilt
Historical perspective ‘60s, ‘70s & ‘80s
New Religious Movement
Group (cult) dynamics – red flags
Human Rights, Quakers, and activism
Synanon – Laura lived there 1980-90
Sociology, Political Science, Psychology
Bilingual education (Spanish-English)
The cult of personality in leaders
OSHER at U of Utah, CSU-San Marcos
Grand Valley State University
Numerous media interviews, including Anderson Cooper, Ricki Lake, NPR’s Melissa Block
University of San Francisco
York College of Pennsylvania
San Diego Universities and Colleges
Professional, Service & Retirement Clubs
Mexico City Bilingual Book Talk
Penn State University – Atherton
Puget Sound and WWU University
Hawaii Pacific University
Bay Area Book Festival
BBC and USA Documentary Interviews
Communal Studies Assoc. Conference
Libraries and Book Stores from San Diego to Seattle to Washington, D.C.
The Families of the 1000 (2015)
A Boyish God: A Review (2014)
Who Suffered The Most? (2013)
Hate? What is it good for? (2012)
Poison in Jonestown (2010)
Making The He’s Able Album (2009)
Three Cinquain Poems (2009)
Seeing the Faces (2008)
An Evolving People’s Temple (2008)
Was It Murder or Suicide? (2006)
The Silence That Need Not Be (2005)
Q 875 Made by Outsiders (2004)
A Temple Member’s Odyssey (2003)
Remembering Paul Flowers (2017)
A Memorial to John F. Heneka (2016)
The Death of a Brother (2015)
Wanda King Comes Home (2014)
Remembering Odell Rhodes (2014)
Remembering Smitty (2013)
Johnnie Mae Yates (2010)