Jim Jones’ Autobiographical Statements

Jim Jones did not create a large written record, either about himself or the movement which he led. He probably wrote the text for The Letter Killeth, a booklet which attacks the King James version of the Bible for its inconsistencies and errors, its defenses of slavery and other evils, and its graphic acts of violence which were condoned or ordered by God. He was likely the author of the booklet Pastor Jones Meets Rev. M. J. Divine, although that may have been ghost-written. He certainly did not write either of the two following autobiographical statements recovered in Jonestown, even though they are both written in the first person.

The text of the first statement – headlined “Jim’s Commentary About Himself” – is an edited transcript of Q 134, in which Jones describes his life with a focus on his turn to Marxism. An extended description of that tape appears here. Portions of “Jim’s Commentary About Himself” may also be found on pages 76-79 in Dear People: Remembering Jonestown, edited by Denice Stephenson (Berkeley, Calif.: Heyday Books, 2005).

The majority of the second statement offers much more detail about his elementary and high school years, his relationship with Marceline and his children, his experience as a pastor and a member of the Human Rights Commission in Indianapolis, the beginnings of Peoples Temple and – as with the first statement – his reasons for embracing communism. The tapes from which these recollections were transcribed have not yet been located, but the opening paragraph of the statement identifies the origin of this statement as “some tapes.”

The opening paragraph reads:

 The following is a transcription of some tapes that were made sometime in September of 1977. It was late at night and a few of us were sitting around, talking. Jim rarely talks about himself in a personal sense, but that night he started talking, and continued for several hours. We were fortunate enough to get it down on tape. In transcribing the material, I’ve left it pretty much unedited, except to try to indicate topics or clarify transitions in subject matter, etc. I left Jim’s syntax, language etc. as is, and I hope that these pages will help convey some idea, or better yet, some “feel” for Jim as a person.

The identity of the transcriber – and author of the paragraph – is unknown.

The statement also gathers others of Jones’ reminiscences from the period. About two-thirds through – on page 13 of the 20-page single-spaced document – the autobiography turns into memoir, as Jones speaks about his mother, Lynetta Jones “a few hours after [her] death… December 9, 1977.”

On page 15, a transcribed tape (which also has not yet been located) dated October 1977 begins with Jones’ experiences in Brazil, then continues with the Temple’s final years in Indiana, the decision to move to California, and his conclusions about his own life. The last two paragraphs read:

Its [It’s] amazing to me that any one who’s ever set in my organization can paint me as such a bad guy when I’ve always talked about my guilt – where I missed, where I failed, worried if I missed one person’s hand when going down the aisle. If I went to visit one person who was sick, I had to visit them all. I did that for years until I just had to quit it. I couldn’t take it. Those people [Jones’ critics] saw that. How can they rationalize that away?

I’ve often stressed publically [publicly] that I wished I’d never been born. I deeply appreciate those who intellectually reassure me, but sure there are things I would’ve done over, a lot of things. But I never could live by any other guidelines, follow a different political ideal. It’s just not right for babies to go to bed hungry. That’s unacceptable. And in spite of the factionalism of Communism, and I’m no messianic worshipper – I don’t worship at the altar of any rigid dogma, I believe every society has to find its own solutions – its own socialism. But whatever difficulty we may face with nationalism, with race, in the liberation of oppressed peoples, its [it’s] better to try for a right goal than to see the selfishness that those who, once believing, have turned their backs on their ideals. And I’ve never met such cowards and hollow, conniving people, as exemplified by some who have left and who have become so belligerent.

“Jim’s Commentary About Himself,” RYMUR 89-4286-O-1-A1-a – O-1-A1-h
Q 134

An untitled collection of reminiscences, RYMUR 89-4286-O-1-B-1 – O-1-B-19