As a member of Peoples Temple member, I lived for nearly two years in Jonestown and Georgetown, Guyana, a country I found refreshingly inclusive and warm. The events of November 18, 1978 shocked the world, including – and maybe even especially, as you will see from some of the writing in this section – the people of Guyana itself. “Jonestown” was alien – its very existence, much less its make-up of a thousand American immigrants and certainly its demise – from anything approaching familiarity with its host nation. We were visitors in their beautiful tropical country, and we abused their friendship and permanently damaged their reputation.
We are very familiar with Jonestown’s trauma from the points of view of survivors, family and friends of members, and people across our country and around the world. The voices we have not heard are those of the Guyanese themselves. This special section of the jonestown report is an effort to remedy that.
One Guyanese icon – and my friend – Eusi Kwayana, has written from the perspective of his native country on numerous occasions, including his recently-published book, A New Look at Jonestown. Using his example as a point of departure, I began contacting as many Guyanese as I could find, including my contacts on Facebook, people who have written to the site before, and then a wider net of Guyanese friends of Guyanese friends of Guyanese friends.
The results were overwhelming! Those people who have been silent so long spoke enthusiastically about their experiences and their reflections. They add so much depth to the years that Peoples Temple was active in Guyana, planning and building Jonestown. Some wrote longer reflections, some just commented, and helped make connections for us.
I so appreciate that they shared so many of their personal stories. It is a welcome source of information to enrich our understanding of the day-to-day events of that time, and the awareness of the unfair and devastating impact even now, nearly 40 years later.
(Laura Johnston Kohl is a Jonestown survivor and a regular contributor to the jonestown report. Her other articles in this edition of the jonestown report are Change and the Chameleon That Was Jim Jones; What Does it Mean to be a “Survivor”?; and Only the Survivor Activists “Get” Me. She is also the author of two remembrances for Paul Flowers and Tchaiko Kwayana. Her collected works may be found here. Laura may be reached at email@example.com.)