Nearly 200 people gathered at Oakland’s Evergreen Cemetery on Sunday to dedicate a newly completed memorial to the victims of the 1978 mass murder and suicide at Jonestown, Guyana, organizers said.
Controversially the memorial includes the name of the Peoples Temple cult’s leader — mass murdered Jim Jones.
The $45,000 monument, which consists of four large granite slabs embedded in the ground and etched with the names of the dead, has sparked controversy because it includes the name of Peoples Temple leader Jim Jones among the 917 other people who died.
Jones is the reviled leader who culled much of the Jonestown population from religious and activist communities in the wake of the civil rights movement.
He is held responsible for brainwashing hundreds of people, many of whom wanted simply to keep building a better world, and forcing them to commit suicide on the day Rep. Leo Ryan, of San Mateo, arrived to investigate and was assassinated.
A Southern California pastor who lost 27 family members at Jonestown sued to block the memorial, but last week, a superior court judge sided with a group of memorial supporters including Jim Jones’ son, saying the service should go on with Jones’ name etched in stone.
For many, the mass murder-suicide in 1978 tarnishes otherwise happy memories from life on the commune in Guyana.
“Unfortunately, Jim Jones became a madman and he destroyed all those lives,” survivor Herbert Newell said.
Newell has 11 family members on the memorial and says Jones’ name should be among them.
“I don’t see why not. He was a part of it. He was a leader of it, but people go wrong you know, in life. All of us wouldn’t have been there if it wouldn’t a been for him,” he said.
The memorial to the Jonestown victims is open to the public at Evergreen Cemetery, 6450 Camden St. in Oakland.
Peoples Temple research resources
Seductive Poison: A Jonestown Survivor’s Story of Life and Death in the People’s Temple