What are White Nights? How many of them were there?

The term “White Night” has a number of definitions, depending upon the person using the term (mainly Jim Jones) and the circumstances of its use. At its base, though, the term was used to denote a crisis within Peoples Temple and the possibility of mass death during or as a result of the crisis. While Jones may have described suicide drills and rehearsals in the U.S. as White Nights – as some observers, including Reiterman and Jacobs in their book, Raven, have written – it wasn’t until the mass migration to Jonestown that members of the Temple became well-acquainted with the concept.

The number of White Nights in Jonestown again depends upon the definition and circumstances. Some former members have said there were two or three, and under one definition, they are right: there were only two or three occasions during which the community armed itself with its weapons – a few guns, tools like shovels and hoes, and sticks – and stayed up for days at a time, expecting attacks from the Guyana Defense Force and/or mercenaries and/or hostile relatives, and prepared to defend their Promised Land, even if everyone died in the process. Some former members have said there were about a dozen, and under another definition, they are correct: that was the number of community meetings during which people came forward to the microphone to pledge their willingness to die – that very night, if necessary – for the cause. Others says there were White Nights almost every week, and under yet another definition, they are correct: Jones often kept the community up all night to talk about problems and concerns, and invoked the term White Night as a spur to keep the people focused (i.e., awake) and on the subject at hand. Finally, others have described a White Night as occurring every time Jones mentioned death during a Jonestown community meeting. While this is yet another definition, and gives support to the claim of almost 100 White Nights, it also renders the term almost meaningless, since Jones mentioned death – his death, the community’s death, the death of an enemy and the consequences for Jonestown, and so on – during nearly every community meeting held in the jungle encampment.

Of course, the final day was the ultimate White Night.

Last modified on October 6th, 2013.
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