(Nicolas Mullins’ paper appears here.)
When first writing on Jim Jones and the Peoples Temple Movement, I had just transferred from a community college to North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University. One of the course requirements in my “HIST 250: The Nature, Study, and Writing” history class was a paper on any topic, as long as I stuck to the idea of globalization. I did not know that picking this topic of the Jonestown tragedy would lead me to be able to present at professional conferences and in the end led me to winning a prestigious academic award from my university’s department.
When I first started, I, of course, only had one goal in mind: I wanted to make the best grade possible. After submitting that paper, I thought that I was done but knew that the history of the Peoples Temple Movement had to be taught, both to those who had the wrong ideas about the movement and to those that had never heard of the movement. I did not know that there was such a long history of utopian socialist movement organizations in such an extremely capitalist country. Still, I never thought that that I would still be researching Peoples Temple two years later.
The main thing that really surprised my teachers as well as my family was the title of the paper. At first my title was just “The Birth, Life, and Death of Peoples Temple,” but throughout my extensive time researching Jim Jones belief system, I was able to create a critical yet thought-provoking title my paper: “The Nigger Preaching From Indiana: The Reverend Jim Jones and the Rise and Fall of Peoples Temple.” Being a Caucasian male in the country’s largest black university, I knew that I would receive some definite reactions to this title. I did, of course, receive some criticism from my professors, family, and friends, but knew that this title was a keeper because I believed it would intrigue people enough to want to read it. What I wanted was for people to try to understand my view of Jim Jones and his equality-based theory on the American working class.
Once my professors started reading my work, they understood why I used such a provocative title and became more interested in Jim Jones and his movement. I, on the other hand, have learned something else entirely. From reading Jones’ sermons and various books on the Peoples Temple Movement, I have come to the conclusion that socialist movements are often related to religious teachings or goals. Though I know now that Jim Jones led his followers to a fatal conclusion, I still believe that he and his followers had the right goals in mind.
What I mean by this is that Jim Jones and his many followers did help many people. Their soup kitchens, drug rehabilitation facilities, and nursing homes were just some of the simple ways they helped their communities. They did this based on the idea of love being the key message to create a better world.
This is what I want to focus on. I want to focus on different religious teachings and how socialism is involved with these ideas of various religious traditions. I believe that Christian teachings formed a background for Jones’ ideas about socialist governments. I hope to be able to look into these studies far more in-depth once I graduate from A&T and attend graduate school.
Though Jones brought his movement to tragic ending, I believe that his movement and his overall ideas of socialism has led me to what I want to focus on in my future studies and how I can possibly do something to help make the world a better place.