After so many years of deliberate forgetfulness, the year and a half since I saw the play has been a healing experience for me. Much has happened in that time. Feeling comfortable to reconnect with other survivors has helped me open up and finally move on with my feelings about the Temple. It has been like coming home again, but – mind you – with no intention to start Peoples Temple up again.
Every time I see or connect with someone, I feel again the closeness, support and belief we had in each other in wanting to build a better world. Comparing notes and stories, we find we were manipulated and divided. And what still unites us is the good in each of us, which helps me release the years of hurt, pain, rage, confusion, betrayal…
Many of the details of my Temple years are still blank. But, when I remember faces, names come to mind; or when I read a name, I see a face. I had not done that for many years. And it’s not wanting to bring it all back to mind, but more as if part of me is no longer suppressed into nonexistence.
Part of my reconnection has been to work with this website which chronicles what happened and, more poignantly, presents writings by people sharing their thoughts and reactions. I wrote about some of my own experience, helped transcribe tapes and have searched through the 49,500+ pages of Temple materials released by the FBI.
I do this all very selfishly to know more about what was happening in Guyana – the good and the bad. We should remember what people were building. We should remember the goodness of the Temple members. Their hopes and beliefs should be remembered.
Each person in Peoples Temple has their own story. No single story gives a complete account. In 1978 there was a rush to minimize and dismiss all of us as something trivial, sad, weird and crazy. As more stories are found and remembered, the account becomes more complete. Most important, as more is told about what we were trying to do, we can restore the dignity deserved by all who were there.
(Don Beck was a member of Peoples Temple for ten years. He directed the Peoples Temple children’s choir during its Redwood Valley years and made several trips to Guyana during its pioneer days. Beginning about 20 years after the tragedy, shortly after this site went online, he became one of its most dedicated researchers, transcribing Edith Roller journals, reviewing and analyzing Jonestown records released through the Freedom of Information Act, and compiling them for the first section of documents on the Jonestown Research page. He also contributed numerous articles and remembrances. Most of those writings may be found here.)
(Don died on July 9, 2021, following a lengthy illness. He was 78.)