Report from the California Historical Society

Text on slide mount: November 1977
Courtesy of the California Historical Society PC 010.0832. Image from the new slide collection. Former members and survivors are encouraged to identify the people and events in the images. Their comments will become part of the database used to describe individual slides in the collection. Text on slide mount: November 1977

The California Historical Society (CHS) is the chief repository of documents, publications, and photographs related to Peoples Temple and events that surrounded the 1978 tragedy in Jonestown, Guyana. These materials, known collectively as the Peoples Temple Collection, include organizational and personal papers, legal documents, financial records, audiotapes and photographs. Our efforts in the archives over the past year have focused on the preservation and processing of new collections of Peoples Temple-related materials.

Among the varied collections are 1225 color slides of Peoples Temple activities from 1967 to 1978 in the United States and Guyana. These slides more than doubled the Collection’s images of Peoples Temple members in Guyana from 1974 to 1978. After cleaning and sorting the slides, CHS created prints and organized them chronologically in five large binders. During several events at CHS, former members and survivors were encouraged to identify the people and events depicted; these comments will become part of the database used to describe individual slides in the collection.

Another new collection consists of the papers of the late psychologist, Margaret T. Singer, that pertain to her work on Peoples Temple. This collection, which is currently being sorted, arranged and described, contains original Peoples Temple materials that were given to Dr. Singer by former members and Jonestown survivors. The photographs from Dr. Singer’s collection are now available for research.

CHS has also received several smaller donations of documents, images, artifacts, and audiotapes from former members, researchers, and Temple visitors. Among these items are papers from efforts to start a Bible school in Indianapolis in 1956, and images of a picnic at the Church of the Golden Rule in Willits, California in April 1966 – less than year after Peoples Temple moved from Indiana to northern California and several years before they built their church in Redwood Valley. From Guyana, there are beaded necklaces made in Jonestown, a contemporary poster-sized copy of a hand-written list of members who signed the November 9, 1978 petition to Congressman Leo J. Ryan, and an original list of survivors created by a Peoples Temple member in Georgetown, Guyana in the aftermath of the deaths in Jonestown. Mary Morganti, Director of Library & Archives, continues to welcome donations of Peoples Temple and Jonestown related materials that enhance the research potential of the existing collection and further new and varied perspectives on the history of Peoples Temple.

This past spring, CHS and Heyday Books published Dear People: Remembering Jonestown, based on a selection of letters, oral histories, and photographs from the Peoples Temple Collection and edited by the collection’s archivist, Denice Stephenson. Many of the documents were published here for the first time. The book’s release coincided with the world premiere of The People’s Temple, written and directed by Leigh Fondakowski, co-produced by Berkeley Repertory Theatre and Z Space Studio. Leigh and her writing team researched in the Peoples Temple Collection throughout their development process. CHS also hosted group visits from the actors and designers for the production, as well as the staffs of Berkeley Rep and Z Space, and journalists from the Los Angeles Times, the (San Jose) Mercury News, NPR, the Lehrer News Hour, and KQED’s Spark arts program.

During the run of the play, Z Space, CHS, Berkeley Rep, and Heyday Books organized a series of free public dialogues about Peoples Temple in Berkeley, San Francisco, and Ukiah. Speakers at these well-attended presentations included Jonestown survivors, former Temple members, researchers, journalists, academics, and community activists. Discussions held at CHS focused on the Peoples Temple Collection, the context of the times, and personal perspectives on Peoples Temple from survivors. Other panel presentations included discussions about the media, religious commitment and extremism, and living history and the theatre. Throughout the spring and summer, the CHS Library welcomed the public to a display of Peoples Temple photographs and artifacts, and offered extended Saturday hours for research in the Peoples Temple Collection. The Walter and Elise Haas Fund generously supported the public dialogues, exhibit materials, and extended Library hours at CHS.

This fall, the Peoples Temple Collection is highlighted in the Society’s highly respected journal California History. The collection will also be featured in a documentary about the making of the play produced by San Francisco’s local PBS station. KQED that will air on November 13th, 2005.

For the third consecutive year, CHS will host a special afternoon in November in the Library for former members, relatives and friends to view photographs and selections of our recent acquisitions from the Peoples Temple Collection. The date for this year’s opening is Saturday, November 19th, 2005 from 12:00 to 4:00pm. CHS has also established a listening station in the reading room so that individuals can listen to recordings from among the more than 800 cassette tapes of Peoples Temple services, meeting, and communications between the U.S. and Guyana.

CHS is located in downtown San Francisco at 678 Mission Street, San Francisco, CA 94105. The North Baker Research Library is open to the public Wednesday through Friday from 12:00 pm to 4:30 pm. Appointments are not required, but researchers who are approaching the Peoples Temple Collection for the first time are encouraged to email reference@calhist.org or call 415-357-1848 ext. 220 for assistance prior to their arrival.

Denice Stephenson, Peoples Temple Collection Archivist
Mary Morganti, Director of Library & Archives
California Historical Society

(For more information on this website about California Historical Society resources on Peoples Temple, see our new link at http://jonestown.sdsu.edu/?page_id=18190.)

Originally posted on July 25th, 2013.

Last modified on March 11th, 2014.
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