The Jonestown Project

by Abbey Gunderson & Jessica Spiro

November 18, 1978, a day that will never be forgotten, a day that most refer to as Jonestown. About a year ago if you would’ve mentioned that date to us, it would have meant nothing more than an average day. Little did we know that this day was one of the most memorable and horrific days in history. This past year we have worked extremely hard on making a documentary about Jonestown. We put countless hours into this project. What started off as a requirement in our History class shortly turned into a topic that was very eye-opening for two eighth grade girls.

Almost a thousand innocent people like you and I lost their lives due to the thoughts and persuasion of one single man: Jim Jones. He persuaded people to leave their homes, their families, and their histories to come to what he called a “perfect” utopia in Guyana, South America. Utopia is defined as a perfect paradise, but in reality it turned out to be exactly the opposite.

Ironically enough, during the time we were working on this project, the Texas polygamy group – with state officials claiming that children inside a compound were endangered – took place. It was interesting how similar some of the events happening resembled things that had also taken place in Jonestown.

The people of the 1960’s were looking to find peace, freedom, and equality. They were in search of a place to feel welcomed and accepted. Then came along Rev. Jim Jones who promised to solve all their problems and make their world a much better place. Some came to him for his special “healings” and miracles. Each individual had their separate reasons. But one thing united them. What Jim Jones preached, you believed.

We became interested in learning about Jonestown after we saw a show on ESPN about Jim Jones Jr. and Rob Jones – Jim Jones’ adopted son and grandson respectively – and their shared love of basketball. Our research took us to a listing of Jonestown survivors with information on how to contact them. We emailed a few survivors, such as Don Beck, and were able to get in contact with them and hear their stories and experiences. Probably our best insight into the events that led up to the tragedy of Jonestown came from a phone interview with Jonestown survivor, Laura Kohl, an interview in our documentary.

Words can’t describe how much we learned from this life-altering experience. Honestly it amazes us both how many people were willing to follow Jim Jones and believe in everything he preached to them. Jim Jones was beyond charismatic. The scary thing was is that these people were just like you and me in a time of conflict. This took place 30 years ago. Our parents could easily have been a member of Peoples Temple. What was intended on being a great thing took a turn for the worse and ended up being one of the most devastating events in history. November 18, 1978 a day that will never be forgotten, a day when 918 innocent people were murdered and families and histories were changed forever.

Last modified on December 3rd, 2013.
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