There is a Rock and Roll band out of Columbus, Ohio that I have followed since their beginning over 18 years ago. They have worked the hard way, traveling all over the country playing to passionate, dedicated fans, and only recently have they taken some large steps in reaching the dream of making it big by playing on the famous Late Night with David Letterman. Their music has always been the exact style I look for, but it is their passionate lyrics and songwriting that seal the deal in terms of making them a band deserving of any accolades that may come their way. They resonate with me. They always get me thinking. Their name is Red Wanting Blue.
As I have followed the band over the years, being the sociologist and historian I am, their name has always intrigued me. Red Wanting Blue. Two primary colors, red and blue. There are many ways to interpret that, but there is no denying the longing and the desire in the phrase. It isn’t outright political in meaning, I can sense that. Although their music touches on politics at times, it doesn’t guide their thinking. The longing for a better place, the longing for something to be better, somewhere, anywhere, just better, is the sense I get from their music and their name. Even though “Red” is similar to “Blue” in terms of their definitions as being primary colors, in reality they are much different and one perhaps always longs to be with the other one, or like the other one. Or just in a better place for that matter, as long as that better place is really, truly there.
So what does this have to do with Jonestown and Peoples Temple?
I was given the opportunity to watch the entire NBC news footage of Congressman Ryan’s trip to Jonestown in November of 1978. There are rumors out there that the three hours I was given and told were the entire tape were only a fraction of what is out there somewhere, but as a historian I have to go on the facts and evidence in front of me, and as a sociologist I follow the Weber philosophy of “walking in the others shoes” to understand the “hows” and “whys.” So with that in mind, the three hours I have seen were enough to provide some details that still to this day fail to come across in the national media reports and documentaries that are commonly aired on cable. The documentaries always do a great job of showing the horror of those final moments, and the tragedy that came on November 18th. What they fail to do completely however is demonstrate that the situation prior to those events was really and truly a lie sold to over one thousand people. These people were brought to a place where they were told their dreams would come true, and noble dreams they were, such as equality and freedom and peace. They were told these dreams would come true if they just left America with Jim Jones, the place that sold the lie in the first place, the lie of equality, freedom, and peace. It is a lie that is commonly sold, and blindly followed to tragic ends. Jim Jones promised to bring what America failed to deliver to his people, and watching the NBC footage it is apparent that the people had their hearts broken, and even when they were celebrating during the infamous party with the Congressman the night before the murders, there still seems to be a look and feel of longing broken hearts that couldn’t escape a lie they had bought.
As I watch the news footage, I see people completely and totally longing. There is longing in every single soul that can be seen through every single eye. There is longing in the eyes of the Concerned Relatives who came to “save” their respective family members. There is longing in the eyes of the people dancing the night of the party and being interviewed, a longing that perhaps was a longing for what might have been, and intertwined with fear of what was coming. You could even say that there was longing in the burned out, drugged out eyes of Jim Jones, but no one can really say what that longing was for, was it the past or the future? There was a longing in all the eyes of the people on that videotape, and all of them were longing for something different.
It’s easy however to write these people off for following Jim as crazy Communists or worthless and mindless people that really must have been insane to follow him and follow through with what took place. The trick is to realize that these people were only following the same dream that America was founded on and maintained itself on, the dream of equality, freedom, and peace. The people of Peoples Temple were Americans, living in America, and they did not feel they were surrounded by equality, freedom, and peace living in a nation fresh off of many Civil Rights movements, fresh off of the Vietnam War, fresh off of news reports of Charles Manson and with all of these issues resonating in their minds. Jim Jones was a single man, not a nation of government officials that had been deceiving them. A single man was selling the same lie that the nation was selling, but this was much easier to follow, this was one man saying its better “over there,” whereas the nation was saying it was better “over here,” and neither one able to fully come true on their promises.
Blue wanting red. Two primary colors, blatantly different, but similar in some ways. We always want what we don’t have, yes, but we also always want what we truly deserve, and sometimes that is the same as red wanting to be blue, and blue wanting to be red. But what isn’t explained or felt in those documentaries is that the people of Peoples Temple were not crazy by any measure, in fact they wanted the exact same things that we all want each day: freedom, equality, and peace. The TV documentaries don’t show this, the NBC footage does if you look into the eyes, and the conversations I have had with survivors truly proves it to me. These people were a huge mix of people that had seen many horrors already in their lives, and they wanted a better place. They longed for a better place. The people in Peoples Temple wanted a better place that their kids could grow up in and continue to build a society. I could argue that they actually were more sane then the rest of us, because they felt in their hearts that they were truly on a path to reach those goals, and they went after it with all of their heart. When we look at our politics today, or even when we look in the mirror after we deal in our own day to day personal relationships with others, are we just following a lie as well? The people of Peoples Temple just wanted a new start to the same dream, and sadly they were sold the lie they had passed on before, this time ending in tragedy. Too many times the conversation about Peoples Temple turns to politics, or race, or religion. Yes, all of these were major factors in what Peoples Temple was about, but in reality, Peoples Temple was truly about people wanting to better themselves and their society. Don’t we all want that? Don’t we all want blue, when we may already have a form of red? Don’t we all look at our red and wish that it was a bit bluer? The slight difference in the colors drove the people of Peoples Temples’ hearts, and should drive all of us to always want to better ourselves and our society. The people of Peoples Temple were noble, longing souls that deserved better. The people of Peoples Temple deserved to have whatever color they longed for, and you can see in their eyes that they almost had it. They would have had it if it wasn’t for one person tragically wanting the exact opposite.
(Craig Foreman is a Sociology and History Teacher with the Expedition Academy at Theodore Roosevelt High School in Kent, Ohio. He is a regular contributor to the jonestown report. His previous articles may be found here. He may be reached at Ke_cforeman@kentschools.net.)