Reply from Laura Johnston Kohl

(This is a reply to letters from Leslie Wagner-Wilson and Yulanda D. A. Williams, who responded to Laura’s article What Does It Mean to be a “Survivor”?)

In my article, What Does it Mean to be a “Survivor”?, I failed to add this part to the title: “For me and some others.” I wrote it following a sleepless night when I was visited by loving thoughts – as I often am – of the friends and adopted family I missed, the people I lived with and loved in Peoples Temple and in Jonestown. I did not intend to write it for every survivor of Peoples Temple. I could not imagine doing that. Neither can I imagine someone else trying to clearly define all of my feelings about the Temple.

I do a lot of public speaking about my personal truth, about how I joined and participated in Peoples Temple, how I fully expected to live my life with the adopted family I had there, and how I survived after November 18, 1978. I speak with other survivors and family members. I have completed Oral Histories with some who have thoughts similar to mine and others with very different points of view. Some survivors have written books and been very public about their experiences and reflections. Many more have not.

I do speak to survivors who have much in common with my own views, but I will repeat, as I do in every presentation and interview, that I speak only for myself. I sometimes also voice thoughts shared with me by some other survivors. No one should deny me the right to do that. Still, knowing that there are vast differences of opinion among ex-Peoples Temple members, I understand it is better for me to use the phrase “some of the survivors” rather than “we.” I hope my future articles will better reflect that understanding.

–– Laura Johnston Kohl