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.
Laura’s address on November 18, 2018 at the 40th Anniversary Memorial Service at Evergreen Cemetery in Oakland, California is here.
Laura died on 19 November 2019 after a long battle with cancer. She was 72.
Throughout the last 20 years of her life, Laura made herself available to family members of those who perished in Guyana and scholars who try to understand the calamity of the ending. She remained in contact with many fellow survivors and helped to organize gatherings twice a year.
Her research and contemplation 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.
In addition, Laura was often interviewed on television and radio, in documentaries, and for both domestic and foreign press. Many of her interviews – including links to varioius podcasts and articles – appear here. More recent interviews include:
Jonestown: Rebuilding my life after surviving the massacre, BBC News, November 18, 2018
After 40 Years, Jonestown Survivor Still Struggles with Tragedy’s Legacy, Lessons, by John Wilkens, San Diego Union-Tribune, November 25, 2018
Jonestown survivor Laura Johnston-Kohl 40 Years After, WallStreetWindow.com, December 10, 2018
Laura was 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 was on the Advisory Committee at the California Historical Society for the Peoples Temple Archives.
Migration and Emigration (2018)
Returning to Jonestown (2018)
Guyana 40 Years Later (2018)
The Legacies of November 18 (2018)
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)
Q875 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)
Laura’s husband Ron Kohl accompanied Laura to Guyana in 2018 and wrote about his experiences in the article My Visit to Guyana.