On the solemn 45th anniversary of the Jonestown tragedy, remembrance events at Oakland's Evergreen Cemetery brought survivors, families, and community members together to honor the nearly thousand lives lost in the horrifying incident.
One small point of contention arose as some survivors and family members expressed their discontent over Jim Jones, the cult leader, being memorialized alongside the victims on plaques at Evergreen Cemetery, near the Eastmount neighborhood in Oakland. The names are listed in alphabetical order on the four plaques, including all the 918 members of the Peoples Temple members who died 45 years ago, per Oaklandside.
Indiana preacher Jim Jones started the Peoples Temple church initially in the 1950s, moving it from the Midwest to San Francisco and advocating for racial equality. Jones descended into drug use and paranoia and brought his followers to the “promised land,” a remote jungle of Guyana, where he compelled members, a third of whom were children, to participate in a mass murder-suicide from gunshots and poisoned juice on Nov. 18, 1978.
One survivor, John Cobb, had reportedly raised money for the plaques with his stepbrother Jim Jones Jr. and another survivor Fielding McGehee in 2011. He was in attendance at the Saturday memorial event, and reportedly wanted to make sure that people in attendance understood that the victims “were a group of people who wanted to create a better place to live,” he told Oaklandside.
Of the inclusion of Jones’ name on the memorial, Cobb told KPIX that “we can erase all the evil people's names out of the book if you want to, it doesn't change history," and said he still wanted to make sure none of the victims were forgotten.
Jynona Norwood, who lost 27 family members, told KPIX that Jones was a mass murderer and that the listing of his name on the memorial was "insensitive" and "ludicrous."
Despite the discord over Jones' inclusion, both sides emphasized the memorializing a painful history while grappling with the complexities of healing and learning lessons from the tragic incident from those directly affected by the Jonestown massacre.
Image of Evergreen Cemetery in Oakland via Google Street View.