What was Jim Jones’ racial heritage?

There is no evidence to suggest that Jim Jones was anything but Caucasian. Nevertheless, the leader of Peoples Temple made it a hallmark of his ministry to identify with the African– and Native Americans in his congregations, and often described everyone in the Temple  – himself included – as part of the nation’s oppressed populations of blacks, browns, Indians, and Asians. To make his point – as figurative as it was – he often described himself and everyone who followed him as “niggers” to distinguish themselves from those who have power and make the rules.

“Oh, yes, you’re a nigger,” he said in an address in 1976.  “I’m a nigger.… I don’t care if you’re an Italian nigger, or you’re Jewish or an Indian, the only people that’re getting anything in this country are the people that got the money, baby.”

On numerous other occasions, though, he claimed to be literally black, oftentimes to make a similar point. “We who are black, we have seven times more blood pressure problems, six times more likelihood of getting heart disease, four times more likelihood of getting cancer,” he said in the spring of 1977. “There’s no solidarity,” he lamented in Jonestown in April 1978, “this is same problem we have with we who are black and Indian.”

Jones claimed Native heritage elsewhere too, although he embraced that for its exotic appeal as well. “My Indian spirit has certain acumen that you won’t be able to find anywhere,” he told the Temple congregation in 1973. But – as with his claims to African heritage – he often included his Native background in a more political context, as in June 1972. “My Indian relatives, the moment this state became California, half of my Indian population, my ancestors, were decimated… I’ve seen my people worshiping the Great Spirit, murdered on the way to their religious festivals.”

Finally, Jones sometimes talked about the struggles he faced as a youth – and finally breaking away from his father – because of the latter’s association with the Ku Klux Klan.  “My father was a Ku Klux Klan bandit, but I’m the greatest humanitarian, the greatest savior that this universe has ever known,” he said in 1973.

None of these claims was true.

Originally posted on July 25th, 2013.

Last modified on November 20th, 2019.
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