[Editor’s note: This transcript of a taped interview with Richard Cordell has questions interspersed with answers. As the transcript notes, the questions are in caps, and the answers are in regular type. Rather than a faithful duplication of this document, then, the questions and answers will be as separate entries. Similarly, there are punctuation and syntax errors which have been corrected.]
Rick Cordell Re: JJ
Questions in CAPS
Comments in small type
Tape 1 Side 1
Q: Interview for book regarding Jim Jones. What was the date, Rick, that you first met Father?
A: It was in the spring of the year in 1955. I don’t remember the exact date. My brother was a senior in high school at the time.
Q: Your brother?
A: Harold, Harold Cordell. He was a senior, and he had been attending the church of Pastor Jim for about a year or year and a half at that time, and he told me to come on over and see a man that was unlike any preacher we had ever known, and we were brought up in the religion together.
Q: What religion were you brought up in?
Q: You said your brother had attended his services for a year and a half. Were your parents also attending the services of Father, or was he going alone?
A: I think maybe our parents had attended maybe once or twice, at that time, but Harold was merely going by himself then.
Q: Did– How did you– When he first told you about Jim, what was it about Jim’s ministry that made you want to attend services?
A: The feeling that I got from Harold was that it was an unusual service, an unusual church and an unusual man. I got the feeling from Harold, for the first time, he was really enthused about church. We were brought up in a church, but we never really saw enough in church to really get one hundred percent enthused about it. We were made to go to church, and played the guilt trip all of our lives, and worried about being the good guys so we would go to heaven. The way Harold presented it to me at the time– I felt that there was something
special about the man, about that church, I needed to go find out. He was relating very closely to it, we were very close as brothers, and I thought, well, it must be worth seeing. Harold had left the church for several years and was running around while he was in high school, and for him to find a church that he really wanted to go to was unusual for me to hear about, so I figured there was really something to it, so I decided to go take a look.
Q: Were the meetings the same as they are today, revelations, etc.?
A: At that time– Jim has always met people at their level. But I didn’t realize back then that he was saying the same thing that he is now, he was just saying it in a different way, because I just didn’t understand it. He was preaching the Bible, healings in every service, mostly healing, a lot of healings, in Indianapolis a lot of healing, in Cincinnati and some of the other towns, just almost all healing services. But his message was always very stark, since I first knew him, its Brotherhood, all races together.
And the very first time I met him and Marceline, I felt an unusual warmth about them. They were the kind of people that you were overwhelmed at the very first meeting, by the love that they projected, the warmth that they made you feel that you were welcome, that you were accepted just as you were, that you were not judged by the way you looked or how much education you had, or how much money you had. And that was the first time I had ever known anybody– The very first time they knew me, to show so much love, so much warmth, so much feeling. The church itself was the same way, although it wasn’t evolved to the point it is now, it was a church where people felt closer, more of a family than any other church I have ever been to.
Q: The same presentation, the same vibration level, the same aura, so to speak, the same warmth, the same feeling.
A: Yes. Jim has always been Jim Jones. I think he and the movement have evolved together, but I feel that he from the very beginning
have the same message, we would not have been able to accept it. No way at that time.
Q: How long ago did he really start clearing up in our minds what we really are, what we are really living for, or when did you really realize that we are socialists in heart? When did he come across with this, or when did you pick it up? You said that all along he had been saying these things, that as you came to the point that you could accept it, you began to realize that he had been saying these things all along.
A: Yes, I didn’t get the message that it was socialism was our goal until about seven, eight, nine years ago. When we came out the last time– I brought my family out in 1968, so that would be seven years ago.
Q: When you brought your family out, did you have a place to stay? Did a lot of you come at the same time, or how was that done?
A: Well, there was myself, Barb and the children, just four children at that time, and my [blank space] we came out. Harold was already out here at the time. We came and stayed with him. But it was very touching, the very night that we arrived, Father sent a whole– boxes and sacks of groceries over for us just because we were there. This really touched me.
Q: Then Father was already out here when you arrived.
A: Yes, this was the last time I was out here, one of the first to move out here in the beginning of 1964, and left in the summer of that year and went back to Michigan.
Q: What was your reason for going back?
A: I think it was not knowing our goal, not knowing what our family was all about. I still at that time was caught up in myself so much, I didn’t know what Jim Jones was really trying to do.
Q: True, I am constantly amazed at this love, at the way he constantly gives, and loves, and takes. Just really amazes me. You are a member of Peoples Temple in Indianapolis?
A: That’s right.
Q: Since 1955.
Q: We have kind of covered what project was being worked on.
A: We were in the small church, 15th and New Jersey at the time, that is
the very first church.
Q: 15th Avenue or Street?
A: 15th Street and New Jersey.
Q: In Indianapolis.
Q: And the name of the church was?
A: Peoples Temple. Something too, we thought about changing the name of our church when we first decided to come out to California, but we never did. We thought that maybe the influence of our work back in Ku Klux Klan Indianapolis would follow us out here, the racists and the enemies of freedom back there would follow us out here, and try to stop us from the very beginning. We did have opposition, but Jim was always one step ahead of them. When I first started attending, it was at 15th and New Jersey in 1955, and that’s– One thing about the church that I remember was how crowded it was, small church, it was always full, I think something about Jim’s meetings, I was always amazed at how many people would attend, and always a full church. People used to stand outside the doors, stand and look through the windows to see what was going on.
Q: Was he as direct then as he is now? Telling things as they really are?
A: He never played any games, he was dealing with a strictly religious crowd so he had to talk Bible, and he had to talk in the realms they could understand, but when he felt something he would say it. That was the church building, I believe, that Archie Ijames was sitting on the platform, and a woman wrote a note to Jim and said, I will give you eight thousand dollars, and much more will I give, I will support you, if you will just get that black man off the platform. Jim in no uncertain terms told her what to do with the money. He spoke about it. That’s one thing, he was never afraid to speak the truth, right straight forward, never being afraid a minute of the consequences of what anybody would try to do to him because he stood for truth. One time a woman came in the service there, and said that– she was a black woman, and she came the first time, and stood up and
testified of how she appreciated the love, and being accepted in the service. That very morning was on a Sunday, she had gone to another church there in Indianapolis, and she had been coldly, very rudely treated, and asked to leave, said she wasn’t dressed in their tradition. It was clear it was a white church and she wasn’t welcome, and she was black. So Jim took the whole church, dismissed the meeting and walked out and got in cars and drove over and walked into the church in the middle of the service and sat down.
Q: His approach has always been direct, and that’s all there is to it. Was any type of mission work in effect at this time?
A: No. In his early years, he went to Brazil. That wasn’t until 1960-1962, I think. He was gone two years.
Q: The church you joined back in Indianapolis, how long had it been in existence? How long had Father been the pastor there of that church?
A: He hadn’t had that church too long, maybe a year and a half, maybe two years as I recall. I am not sure about that. They hadn’t had that building very long. He was a young minister, I think, in a Methodist Church, and they were very much against total integration or equality as Jim has always been for. They were a passive sort of church and they didn’t like his radical view, they considered him a radical, and they gave him a hard time and he told them, I don’t remember the exact details, but it had to do with brotherhood, that they were not fully integrated and never would be, and he walked out and left that church and started his own.
Q: You’re not sure how many years before this, that this happened?
A: No, I am not. He was a very young man at that time, he had just finished college and had been working two jobs and had the rest homes. At the time he had the one rest home, I think when I first met him, and got the other one later on.
Q: He was involved at that time with doing, rather than just hearing it over the pulpit and preaching it.
A: Very much. His house was full of animals all the time, took in stray
animals, wounded sick animals, never turned them away, always– he always had a monkey in his house.
Q: Did he encourage communal living back in those days?
A: Yes, he did. His house was always full, he encouraged other people to take in others and live together and to conserve their resources and so they could put more into the church, and we could go more and help people out. That was always the theme in the message, but nobody seemed to get it at the time.
Q: Did services– Did he administer as long as he does now? Were the services as long?
They were long services but not like today, they were– People wouldn’t have been receptive as much as they are today, people didn’t realize the hard times we were in back then.
Q: So a great change really came about when you came to the West Coast, to Redwood Valley.
A: I think, yes.
Q: Was there a big push for growth in the little church in Indianapolis?
A: Well, there wasn’t proselytization as such, there wasn’t a big outreach to get members just to get numbers, it was– And yet again it was, it was–
Q: The same as it is now?
A: More or less. He was trying to reach out to all people. But he has always been for the poor, the blacks, always. Stood for black freedom, liberation. Equality, he would never walk past a situation where he saw blacks being mistreated. Whether his life could be in danger or not, he would stop and speak his piece, correct the situation, do whatever he could to help that person, to let him know that somebody cares, that they were not second-class citizens, and they were not supposed to be treated that way, and he was doing something about it.
Q: His ministry back then, his outreach, the same toward any walk of life, animals, toward everything.
A: Yes. I remember a pigeon one time standing out and he was walking around in a circle, downtown circle monument in Indianapolis, and he saw a man pick up a pigeon that was evidently sick and started hitting the pigeon with his fist, and he stopped and he very strongly approached that man and told him never, ever do that again, and he took the pigeon and he set it down
on the sidewalk again and he didn’t have at that time to take the pigeon home, he didn’t have a single minute to take the pigeon home to care for it, so he– If I remember right, he was going to come back and get the pigeon. He walked away and looked back, and that man had come back to that pigeon and had stomped it to death. Before he could come back to him. He told us that that at that time, when he saw that man do that, he had a flash, a vision before his eyes, he saw that man coming back as a worm and being eaten by a bird. By a pigeon. He was so torn up, so hurt by what had happened, he was always sensitive to animals and people.
Q: How many children that they have at this time? Did they– Had they adopted any?
A: Yes, they had Agnes, Suzanne, Stephan of course, the natural born, and Jimmy, and Lew. They had those children at that time. That was not right when I met him, that was later on when they got the children, but they had them when they lived on Broadway, 2327 North Broadway in the big house. That’s where they opened up their home, they had people coming in all the time, great big old brown house, always full of people.
Q: Who do your best knowledge has been with Father the longest that we could go back and see who–
A: Edith Cordell. Edith Cordell knew him first, and the– when he was speaking in a church on the south side of Indianapolis. I am trying to remember the name of it, but she can tell you, and so can Loretta. Loretta met Jim back then too, when he was speaking in that church.
Q: How has your life been changed? How has it really been changed?
A: Well, that is so dramatic it’s hard to describe. Been such a long slow process, that’s what has always amazed me, about Jim, is that he has had patience, he has known truth and reality, he has known what life is all about, he has known how people play games, he has known people’s weaknesses all this time, and yet he has had the
patience to deal with us, and to work with us, and that’s what amazes me. I don’t know. I, of course, being brought up in a Pentecostal church, I was religious minded, Bible minded, the whole trip, and he started speaking up about the errors in the Bible.
And I think it was 1963, that’s when he had the vision, he came in the house and started up the stairway and saw a big flash of light, he turned, it was coming from the north, Chicago, it was so bright that it almost blinded him, and it was a picture of a nuclear holocaust, a bomb blasted so bright that he saw it all the way in Indianapolis, the bomb had exploded in Chicago and it burned clear down within miles of Indianapolis. Eventually Indianapolis would also come under the attack of nuclear bombs. He saw that vision, and the same time saw the only way that he was going to wake people up to either ([blank space]) to what really was happening around the world was to tear up the Bible. Tear up their Bible, God was their Bible. Their idol.
Q: Can we go back and kind of pinpoint the time that he had that vision? You said the big brown house. Can you be sure of what year that was?
A: I think in 1963 or ‘64, almost sure.
Q: When did– This must be– When was the cave purchased?
A: That was after they got out here. That was a prophecy then. The vision that he saw at that very same time, that he received the message in a vision form, that the only way he could get people to wake up, to hear the truth, would be to tear up their idol, which was the Bible, and at the same time he received a vision of a place he could take us, the church family, to escape that holocaust, and it led him right to here. He had never been here before, but his vision let him right to Ukiah, California. After we had moved out there, it was pointed out very clearly that this was the only safe area in the US with the natural updraft over the valley, with the winds coming in very strongly from the West all the time so there would be no
fallout, and it was far enough from San Francisco or any large city where the fires would not reach from a nuclear holocaust, would come within a few miles, I think Hopland, would come that close, but they wouldn’t come any farther. In case there was any chance at all, there was even further protection because he received a revelation about the cave and followed his instinct and went right to the cave and found it to be just what we needed. There was no end to it, there was plenty of room in there for storage of food, and just got endless, endless cave.
Q: And we have guards posted at the entrance?
A: Right. Thinking back in those years of the vision that he had, it was a– it was not long after that that I moved. I was impulsive, my parents were impulsive and I was impulsive, wanted to get about it, right away. He spoke of the vision and the need to go where his gift of revelation had showed him to go. He described the place, and we sold everything we had and were ready to go within just a short period of time, and he– I hadn’t talked with him, I hadn’t cleared it to go, I just decided to get ready and do it. He spoke about his concern about me going at that time. He felt it was too soon, that there wouldn’t be housing enough there for my family. There was concern that we would need a place to stay, there would be plenty for us to eat, there would be a job for me to find. Even though the revelation spoke there would be, he was so concerned for me in particular for some very strong reason about going so soon. Of course that was evident later that the feelings he had were true, and because I wasn’t strong enough at that time in my rootings and the cause and knowing what he was really about, to get out alone away from the family like that, the church family, and continued to be dedicated toward ([blank space]) and brotherhood, and thus I got alienated from the church when I moved out.
Q: Let’s get some history of the church. The services were held in Ukiah in the little church that was rented and this was when you went back the second time, while they were still having services in that little church.
A: Yes, that’s right.
Q: And then when you
came back out, if you were still having services in the garage? Approximately there were two- or three hundred members at this time still.
A: Right, when we first moved out, we were not only having meetings at– This was the second time we moved out, they were having meetings at the Golden Rule Church. They had been– Ever since we were gone, they were trying to build a relationship with those people, because those people had somewhat of a Socialist structure, and their leader had died and the church was dying out and we started our relationship with them when we first moved out, and the very first time, and found them to be very friendly people, but found them to be kind of– well, they were all seniors, and the children were leaving, so the church itself was dying out. They were in the very bad need of a leader. We were having meetings up there with them, as well as our own little church in Ukiah. When I came out the second time, I heard they had gone around to different churches throughout Ukiah, and having service with each church separately, trying to build some type of union of minds, that we were all serving the same God. In every case they were received coldly and indifferently, they were given a false smile and some sort of a warm reception, but then when they left – we would have certain people stay back who were not recognized and would give us reports – that when we left, they would talk about us and didn’t like the blacks, that they would smell, had a certain smell, bad manners and different kinds, anything they could do to run us down.
Same thing happened in Indianapolis when we moved out. Jim was always trying to get people of one mind, and he tried desperately to bring the church to the realization that it had the first responsibility to bring about change in society, and it was because of his aggressive position on this in his leadership and courage that the mayor even made him commissioner director of the mayor’s human rights commission. Human rights commission. He was even back then doing the very same thing, reaching out to people, people in need, and standing for equality and freedom, especially for the black man. He opened up many restaurants and public service facilities,
toilets, restaurants, and motels, and you name it, he opened them up, and before they had never been open before to blacks in Indianapolis.
The churches they got together and tried to stop him. They got the press, the reporters, they got him on TV one time I remember, and they thought they were really going to stump him up, and they threw all kinds of weird questions at him to try to trip him, they had a well-planned attack, but he came through just beautifully, so much, so fantastic in his brilliance and his mind to deal with. I think there was somewhere around either six or eight reporters there who were well-trained in interrogating people, and it was obvious that they had a plan of attack, to try to make him look bad, to discredit what he was doing. He came through just shining. He turned it around like he always does, turn it around and he looks good, and the publicity he received helped his cause even more, and even though that there were racist and hateful people there, tried to put a stop to it, to what he was doing, he kept on doing it.
It was during a time that he was doing this, that they were shooting his house, putting glass in his food, and spitting on the black baby, Jimmy Jones, that they had at that time, Marceline would carry him down the street and they would spit on him. Then when she started taking the child to school, they would threaten her and give her a hard time. The very first people who ever took a black child into an integrated home like that and really stood for what they were doing, really showed that they were fully integrated. There was no– you know, like some people take a black child back in those days just to prove to somebody else to say, “Look, I have a black child, I’m liberal, I believe in a–“ or “I’m not a racist.” But they never treated the child as an equal. There was always an obvious treatment about child, like the so-called Rev. [Ross] Case
in Ukiah, who knew Jim back in Indianapolis. He adopted a black girl, when he used that black girl to get ahead himself, to make himself look good, and even worse than that, abused the child sexually, as to my recollection, and he and his wife both, because his wife was an active lesbian, but Jim and Marcy did so much to show that there was no special treatment shown or given any child that they had, that they took all people into the family as one, and both of them very courageously continued their stand regardless of what people tried to do to them. They would poison their dogs, their animals, set fire to their home, just any kind of dirt they could do, throwing rocks at the house and the car, just anything. They were right in the middle of a ghetto, an old house they lived in, right in the neighborhood where the poor were congregating.
Q: Was he teaching school at this time?
A: Not back then. He was working, he had worked for a while at jobs, then he took a job for Mayor Human Rights Commission, which was a terribly taxing job that took a lot of his time, as well as pastoring a church in Indianapolis and the midweek meetings, and weekend meetings, and Ohio. He had always been one that would spend special time with children, with animals, and the young people every year would take a trip up to Chicago or to New York City. He would take them himself, and the church would pay for everything, you know, all the children, give them a good time and make sure they would all enjoy themselves, give them equal time, give them a chance to do the things they had never done before.
Q: Where did he teach school? Was that directly after college, or did–
A: He taught school out here in Ukiah.
Q: He is also a lawyer? With all of this training– Did he receive all this training before you knew him?
A: To my knowledge, he is not a licensed lawyer but he was always our only attorney.
Q: Well, his mind is the ultimate.
A: Right. Our poor people could not afford an attorney, so Jim would take the responsibility to see that they got a fair trial, to see that they got treated right, and would make many and many a decision regarding
legal matters, and he would always come up making the correct decisions, always he would give advice against, over and above what a lawyer would say and even give guidance to the attorney we would hire, and the attorney would take the advice and find out that it would come out right every time.
Q: How many years of college did Jim have?
A: He graduated from four years of college, from North Indianapolis State University, and also [unintelligible phrase] to Chicago up there, clear up in Northern Indiana. He went to school there, then he went to school in Indiana State, and he took some schooling in Indianapolis also.
Q: Since he arrived in the Valley [Redwood Valley], it’s just been the ministry basically? No, you said he taught school out here too. When did he quit teaching school?
A: It’s been about five years ago, I think.
Q: When you first arrived in the Valley, the outreach to the neighboring towns and communities, to the neighbors. Cover some of that, the letter writing, the–
A: Okay. One way he used to reach people to make it easier for our black people to walk on the street to be accepted among jobs– See, he had a revelation we would all find jobs, we would all find housing, we would have plenty to eat, and we would prosper. That we have. But he has brought it about. He has made it possible. His strategy in dealing with people and opening up people’s minds in the community, sending people out, dozens– We had a committee of several people, dozens of people, in fact, to take cakes, send cards and letters, do special humanitarian things to help people in the community. Like for instance, there was a person– Every time there was a baby born, there would be gifts, cards and cakes sent to those who had the newborn child. Every time there was a death, there would be cards and letters sent in condolence, and if there was a family left, we would move in to help the family. Whenever there was a fire or a tragic loss by anyone in the community, we would send cards and help in the way of clothing and food. Many times when the people were burned out, we would provide them with a place to stay, with food and clothing, everything they needed, till they were able to get situated. This was one way
he had of reaching people. Churches themselves as institutions refused us. When we attended the services, they treated us coldly, and I think we covered that, that if we attended a service, they would treat us warmly and in the service, and then they would talk about us when we were gone.
Q: He has always had this untiring drive, untiring push–
A: Just endless, very little rest. He was always tired, but never stopped going. He seemed to have one thing, just one goal, and that was reaching people. Getting the people to integrate their mind, to accept people of other colors, to bring about a unity of man. Mankind.
Q: Is there a particular miracle that you remember that has a particular significance to you?
A: There are a lot of them. When we first moved out, I was sitting in a service, and this is the second time we came out, 1968, and after a while we had moved back. We had been living in Michigan, and he called my name out and described the place where I worked and the address, exact address, and said you used to walk yourself right across the street and do your banking and another address, I can’t even remember myself what they were, I was on– 105 East Main was my business, and across the street to 103 West Main was where I did my banking, and I said yes, that’s true. And he also said, I will tell you something else you did. You moved out here and you left your record in Leonard’s Garage, and Leonard Brennar was an oil company that I did business with, that sponsored the garage that I had as a business. I had purchased a record that I had left there in his garage when I moved, and he had no way of knowing, I hadn’t told anyone, not a soul that I had done that. He had no way of knowing. When he did that, something struck me that I never felt before, and he said, “Now you have been having trouble with colitis,” he said–
Q: You said something struck you that you had never felt before?
A: Yes, I felt a warm feeling come over me all of a sudden. He said, “You have had colitis, stomach problems, now surround you with warmth, healing power.” I felt it, I felt the warmth all over my body. I had never felt that before, it
was especially centered in my stomach. They– He said, I will tell you now that you won’t have any more problem with that. If I was not able to heal you, if you ever had to go to the hospital, we would pay your doctor bill, we would pay your hospital bill. It touched me, not only that I received a healing, but I never had the problem again that I had been having. I was touched that he would say that, that if I ever had to have an operation and go to the hospital, he would pay the bill, I am sure that that was taken care of. I think that was one of the–
[End of transcript]