I am a Black woman who spent several years in Peoples Temple as a teenager. I escaped going to Jonestown by leaving the Temple altogether rather than travel down to Guyana when I was ordered to. So many of my friends and relatives did not escape, though.
In many ways, then, the dramatic production White Nights, Black Paradise: The Play was supposed to be about me, my sister, and my girlfriends.
To put it mildly, I was insulted by what I witnessed. I’m tired of the African American women of Peoples Temple characterized and portrayed with misinformation. The Black women of Peoples Temple would never use the kind of language as a norm that was blasted in that play. They were not inarticulate. They could actually speak a sentence without the use of profanity. I kept watching, hoping it would get better. It didn’t.
I understand that the playwright is on the outside looking in, and has had limited contact from Black women from Peoples Temple. However, she could have done a better portrayal. I literally whispered to my loved ones, “I’m sorry, guys,” after five minutes into it.
Muting the audience was a good decision, because they’d have needed to end the meeting if I got word in. It was boring, and the articulation was demeaning. The conversation afterwards gave me a headache.
I hope the next project does a better job portraying the Black people of Peoples Temple.
(Glenda Randolph Bates was the sister of Darlene Ramey, who died in Jonestown. Glenda’s numerous articles for this site appear here. She died on March 29, 2022 from pancreatic cancer.)