The Rainbow Family:
Jim Jones and Peoples Temple

IMG_2916We are three students from De La Salle high school in Minneapolis, Minnesota who participated in the History Day competition as an assignment for AP U.S. History. We came together as a group to decide our topic about five months before the project itself was due. There were many topics we could choose, so we were a little overwhelmed as to where to start.

The topic we ended up choosing was Jim Jones and his creation of the religious cult, Peoples Temple. We decided on this topic because we were not only intrigued by Jones’ legacy, but because we wanted to learn more about the origins of the popular phrase, “Drink the Kool-Aid.” Even though it can sometimes be considered controversial to do a project on someone who had such a negative impact, we believed it is important that leaders like Jones are understood and recognized along with the more positive, famous leaders. Jim Jones is not seen as a great man, yet he was still a great leader who left a lasting impact on our current society.

We started our research with a simple Google search. This search led us to countless sources including books, videos, newspaper articles, and websites. We were very surprised at how much information there was on a topic we had heard so little about. We decided to expand our research by visiting the Wilson Library, a part of the University of Minnesota, where we found many books on Jim Jones and Jonestown including A Sympathetic History of Jonestown by Dr. Rebecca Moore. We were so impressed with Moore’s work, we contacted her through email to ask for a short interview. She was very gracious with her time and insight. We were also able to find many primary sources, such as a recording made by Jones himself on the day of the Jonestown Massacre.

At the beginning of our History Day project, we knew almost nothing about our topic. As we progressed in our research, we came to understand the manipulation and tactics Jones had used during his years in the spotlight. We began to understand that Jones was more than a murderer, but a charismatic leader that knew how to reach out to those who were lost. We have deepened our understanding of the inner workings of a cult and of a dynamic leader who brought his members into light, then to darkness.

IMG_2919Our topic relates to this year’s (2015) History Day theme, “Leadership and Legacy”, because leadership is not always perfect. Jones had qualities that many other leaders, good and bad, share. Although Jones led his members to their ultimate demise, he first led them across the nation, then across the world to Guyana. Only a man with strong leading qualities could convince so many people to do sometimes so drastic for something that he had created in his mind. Although our subject is unconventional, we believe that Jim Jones was an influential leader and still impacts the way that cults are viewed today.


Works Cited

Primary Sources:

Binder, David. “Coast Congressman Believed Slain Investigating Commune in Guyana.” New York Times 19 Nov. 1978, 1st ed.: 1, 22.

New York Times article written one day after the incident. We used this information as a part of our description of Ryan’s death.

“Guyana Official Report 300 Dead At Religious Sect’s Jungle Temple: Troops Find Bodies- Mass Suicide Is Indicated After Attack on Americans in Which 5 Were Slain.” New York Times 20 Nov. 1978: A1, A16.

This is first official report written on the mass suicide of Peoples Temple. It was published in the New York Times and is not 100% factual due to the tragedy being so recent. We used this article as a reference for how little information there was when the news of this article first came out.

Jim Jones. The Rev. Jim Jones, Et Al. (The Peoples Temple Cult) The Jonestown Death Tape (FBI No. Q 042) (November 18, 1978). Rec. 18 Nov. 1978. 1978. Internet 9 Feb. 2015.

This is a recording made by Jim during the events of Jonestown. It was previously confidential but has been released by the FBI. This recording was very helpful because it gave us insight into what really happened at Jonestown and it gave us a better idea of who Jones was to hear his own voice.

Jones, Jim. “Jim Jones and Tim Stoen, 1975 Phone Conversation.” Interview by Tim Stoen. Alternative Considerations of Jonestown & Peoples Temple. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Mar. 2015. <>.

This is a phone conversation between Jones and his right hand man, Tim Stoen before he defected. This helped us because it helped us to better understand the structure of Peoples Temple, as well as the inner workings of the Temple’s transition to Guyana.

Jones, Jim. ““Nouvelle Observatoire” Interview.” Interview by Nouvelle Observatoire. Alternative Considerations of Jonestown & Peoples Temple. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Mar. 2015. <>.

This is an interview of Jim Jones by the Nouvelle Observatoire before the Temple’s move to Guyana. It helped us to better understand the beliefs of Jim Jones and the Temple.

Jones, Jim. “The Letter Killeth, but the Spirit Giveth LIFE.” Alternative Considerations of Jonestown & Peoples Temple. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Mar. 2015. <>

This is a letter written by Jim himself. It discusses why slavery and the selling of women Is ethical. This letter also gave us greater insight into who Jones was as a person because we could read his own thoughts and ideas.

Jones, Lynetta. “Lynetta Jones Interview 1.” Interview by Tish Leroy. Alternative Considerations of Jonestown & Peoples Temple. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Mar. 2015. <>.

This is an interview with Lynetta Jones, Jim Jones’ mother. This helped us to better understand Jones’ persona as a child, as well as better understand Lynetta.

Jones, Lynetta. “Lynetta Jones Interview 2.” Interview by Tish Leroy. Alternative Considerations of Jonestown & Peoples Temple. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Mar. 2015. <>.

A continuation of the Lynetta Jones Interview 1, this continues to provide us with information relating to Lynetta’s background as well as Jim Jones’ grandparents.

Krause, Charles A., and Laurence M. Stern. Guyana Massacre: The Eyewitness Account. New York: Berkley, 1978.

This book is an eyewitness account of Jonestown written by a survivor. We used this information in our paragraphs to describe the events at Jonestown.

Layton, Deborah. Seductive Poison: A Jonestown Survivor’s Story of Life and Death in the Peoples Temple. New York: Anchor, 1998.

Seductive Poison is a written personal account of Deborah Layton’s survival story. We use this book to get a different perspective on the shootings that occurred.

Lindsey, Robert. “Defectors From Sect Depict Its Rehearsals for Suicide.” New York Times 21 Nov. 1978, 1st ed.: 1, A16.

New York Times article written three days after the incident. We used this information to learn more about the “White nights”.

Maaga, Mary McCormick. Hearing the Voices of Jonestown. New York: Syracuse UP, 1998.

This book discusses the creation and destruction of Jonestown. It groups interviews, research, diaries, and letters of those who died. This collection was very helpful in learning about Jones from different perspectives and we used a lot of its information in our project.

Mills, Jeannie. Six Years with God: Life Inside Reverend Jim Jones’s Peoples Temple. New York: A. & W., 1979.

The story of survivor Jeannie Mills, it discusses the beatings, humiliation, and brainwashing of Peoples Temple. We used this as background information and also to understand the survivors of Jonestown.

Moore, Rebecca (2015)- personal interview

For our project, we conducted a personal interview with Dr. Rebecca Moore, an expert in religious studies and new religious movements. She is an expert on Peoples Temple and has lost family members in the Jonestown Massacre. Dr. Rebecca Moore was gracious with her time and insight on the topic of Jim Jones. We conducted our interview via email and Dr. Rebecca Moore gave us thoughtful and useful information that has become an integral part of our project. We are very thankful to Dr. Moore for her cooperation and enthusiasm in helping us develop our research and eventually our exhibit.

Nordheimer, Jon. “Guyana Files in Troops.” New York Times 20 Nov. 1978, 1st ed.: 1, A16.

New York Times article written two days after the incident. We used this as background information because it was printed shortly after the incident and all the facts may not be completely accurate.

Nordheimer, Jon. “Leader of Sect Dies: Parents Reported to Give a Children Poison Before Dying Beside Them.” New York Times 21 Nov. 1978, 1st ed.: 1, A17.

New York Times article written three days after the incident. We used this article to describe the events at Jonestown.

Pace, Eric. “He Enjoys Controversy.” New York Times 19 Nov. 1978, 1st ed.: 22.

New York Times article written four days after the incident. This article helped us learn about Jones and his leadership.

“The Assassination of Representative Leo J. Ryan and the Jonestown, Guyana, Tragedy: Report of a Staff Investigative Group to the Committee on Foreign Affairs, U.S. House of Representatives”. Washington: U.S. Govt. 1979.

This is an official document comprised of exhibits and reports describing the events that occurred in Jonestown. It was released by the U.S. Government. We used this report in describing Ryan’s death at Jonestown.

Thielmann, Bonnie, and Dean Merrill. The Broken God. Elgin, Ill.: David C. Cook, 1979.

This book gives an account of the events that occurred leading up to the downfall of Jonestown. It is written by Jones’ estranged adopted daughter, Bonnie Thielmann. This helped us to see the growth of the Temple. It also was interesting to get his adoptive daughters perspective.

Treaster, Joseph B. “Ryan Was a Friend of Disadvantaged.” New York Times 20 Nov. 1978, 1st ed.: A17.

New York Times article written two days after the incident. Informative news article from the days proceeding the event. Retrieved from the Minneapolis public library on microfilm.

Turner, Wallace. “Deaths in Guyana Threaten Sect’s California Organization.” New York Times 20 Nov. 1978, 1st ed.: A17.

New York Times article written two days after the incident. Being one of the first sources we found, we thought it was amazing. Retrieved from the Minneapolis public library on microfilm.

Yee, Min S., and Thomas N. Layton. In My Father’s House: The Story of the Layton Family and the Reverend Jim Jones. New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1981.

This book describes the tragic story of the Layton family, close allies with Jones. It follows Lisa, Deborah, and Larry Layton and their involvement in Jonestown. This is a very detailed recreation of jones personal, and public life. Although it doesn’t show Jones in a very positive light, we still though it was very interesting, and informative.

Secondary Sources:

Alternative Considerations of Jonestown Peoples Temple. Web. 4 Dec. 2014. <>.

This is a website designed by Rebecca Moore, Fielding M. McGehee III, Elizabeth Shaules, and Rikke Wettendorff. It is sponsored by the Department of Religious Studies at SDSU. It gives personal and scholarly perspectives on a the Jonestown events. In an effort to be impartial, it offers many diverse views and opinions about the Temple and the events in Jonestown. It is filled with information presented to us through articles, bulletins, audio tapes, personal reflections, galleries, and other research mediums.

Chidester, David. “Jonestown and Peoples Temple.” Encyclopedia of Religion. Ed. Lindsay Jones. 2nd ed. Vol. 7. Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA, 2005. 4952-4956. World History in Context. 15 Jan. 2015.

This is an excerpt from the Encyclopedia of Religion. It gives details about its rise and demise and also interpretive context. This gives us the view of the Temple in religious terms.

Chidester, David. Salvation and Suicide: An Interpretation of Jim Jones, the Peoples Temple and Jonestown. Indiana: Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1991.

This book discusses the theology of Peoples Temple and what the mass suicide meant to Americans at the time. This source helped us to see the legacy of the event by seeing its effect on the people of the times.

DeAngelis, Gina. Jonestown Massacre: Tragic End of a Cult. Berkeley Heights, NJ: Enslow, 2002.

This book describes the effects of Jonestown on America as well the principles behind the disaster. It is coupled with stories of personal accounts.

Fondakowski, Leigh. Stories from Jonestown. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota, 2013.

This book is a collection of interviews from Jonestown survivors and others. This book really helped us in understanding the legacy piece of our project. The interviews helped us to see the perspective of others.

Haney, Elissa. “Ministry of Terror.” Infoplease, 4 Dec. 2014. 16 Jan. 2015. <>.

This is a brief overview of the events of Jonestown, including details about the visits of Congressman Ryan. This informed us of the background of the situation.

Isaacson, Barry. “The secret letters of the Jonestown death cult: thirty years after the mass suicides and murders in Guyana, Barry Isaacson unveils a cache of letters he found in his LA home, mapping the pain of one of the families.” Spectator 17 May 2008: 19. World History in Context. 15 Jan. 2015.

This is an article about a man who found letters from people living in Jonestown, addressed to people who were formerly living in the house. This helped us to see a more personal view of Jonestown, and what it was like to be a part of the Temple.

“Jim Jones – Mini Biography.” Online video clip. Aol Entertainment. Aol. 30 May 2014. 4 Dec 2014.

This video clip discusses details about Jones’s life, including early childhood and influences. By knowing about jones past, it helps us to determine who he was as leader.

Jonestown: Paradise Lost. Cineflix Productions, 2007.

This is a film made based on the events of Jonestown. It is not a documentary, but a film with actors portraying real people. Watching this portrayal helped us to understand the exact timeline from the day of the massacre. It also had short interviews with jones living, and only legitimate, son Stephen. By hearing Stephan speak about his father, and the occurrences on November 18, 1978.

Kinsolving, Kathleen, and Tom Kinsolving. “People’s Temple Jim Jones – Madman in Our Midst: Jim Jones and the California Cover Up.” Freedom of Mind. Freedom of Mind Resource Center Inc., 1 Jan. 1998. 6 Feb. 2015.

This website was discovered through the use of another source, and states the events that occurred before, during, and after the Jonestown massacre. It also draws parallels to today’s world.

Klineman, George, and Sherman Butler. The Cult that Died: The Tragedy of Jim Jones and the Peoples Temple. New York: Putnam, 1980.

This book discusses the beginning and end of Peoples Temple. It follows the members to their exile and death. By showing the span of the Temples life, we learn about the processes jones used to acquire so many followers. It also shows us his leadership in moving all of his followers to Guyana.

Plummer, Kathryn. “Jonestown.” Encyclopedia of Latin American History and Culture. Ed. Jay Kinsbruner and Erick D. Langer. 2nd ed. Vol. 4. Detroit: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 2008. World History in Context. 15 Jan. 2015.

This is an excerpt from the Encyclopedia of Latin American History and Culture. It gives basic information about Jonestown and its beginnings. Because it gives a short, and concise definition it shows the most important facts.

Reiterman, Tim, and John Jacobs. Raven: The Untold Story of the Rev. Jim Jones and His People. New York: Dutton, 1982.

Raven provides the definitive history of the Reverend Jim jones, Peoples Temple, and the murderous ordeal at Jonestown and explores the realities behind Peoples Temple. This informational novel helped to describe details of the even, Jones, and the Temple.

Richardson, James. “The Phrase ‘drank the Kool-Aid’ Is Completely Offensive. We Should Stop Saying It Immediately.” The Washington Post, 18 Nov. 2014. 4 Dec. 2014. <>.

This is an opinionated article discussing the reasons why we should stop using the phrase “Don’t drink the Kool-Aid.” The phrase is why we originally chose this topic. We enjoyed hearing an opinion as well because it helps to open us to new perspectives.

Robinson, B. A. “Destructive Cults: The People’s Temple, Led by James Warren (Jim) Jones.” Jim Jones’ People’s Temple. Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance. 30 Jan. 2015. <>.

This website talks about the events leading up to, during, and after the mass suicide. It was helpful to see Peoples Temple referred to as a cult, surprisingly many of our sources just referred to it as a cult.

Scheeres, Julia. A Thousand Lives: The Untold Story of Hope, Deception, and Survival at Jonestown. New York: Free, 2011.

This book gives a history of the Jonestown settlement and massacre. It is written by a journalist and chronicles the lives of five people who resided in Jonestown before the mass murder suicides that claimed 918 lives. Hearing the statements of the Temple members helps to see their perspective, and who they believed Jones was.

Visual Images:

Indiana Original Peoples Temple Building. Peoples Temple / Jonestown. By Roger Stacy.

This is a picture of the original Temple in Indianapolis.

Family Photographs Jim Jones and Stephan Jones. Peoples Temple / Jonestown. By Stephan Jones.

This is a picture of Jim Jones and his son.

Mike Cornelison: Letters from the Lunar Outpost.

This picture is of the motto of Jonestown.

Redwood Valley 1972 Jim Jones and Children. 1972. Peoples Temple / Jonestown.

This is a picture of Jim jones and his “rainbow family.”

Map of Guyana and Guyana Details Maps. 2009.

This photo is of a map of Guyana.

Mass Suicide. 1978.

This is a picture of dead people after the suicide occurred.

Representative Jackie Speier

This picture is of congresswomen Jackie Speier today. Image supplied by the Congressional Pictorial Directory.

Reverend Jim Jones Lying Dead

This is a picture of Jim Jones’ dead body.

Jim Jones with his Signature Sunglasses

This is an iconic up close picture of Jim Jones’s face.

Victim – Rep. Leo Ryan. 1978. By Greg Robinson.

This is a picture of Leo Ryan, the congressman who died.