The seemingly unending tragedy of Jonestown intensified last week when a group of victims' families ramped up their fight to stop a planned memorial that would include Jim Jones' name among the massacre victims.
OAKLAND, Calif. — The seemingly unending tragedy of Jonestown intensified last week when a group of victims’ families ramped up their fight to stop a planned memorial that would include Jim Jones’ name among the massacre victims.
Jynona Norwood, who lost 27 relatives at the 1978 mass suicide in Guyana, led a somber rally and prayer vigil at Evergreen Cemetery in Oakland, Calif., where 406 of Jonestown’s nearly 1,000 victims are buried in a mass grave.
About 20 people attended, in hopes of pressuring the cemetery to scratch a memorial by another group of relatives and install theirs instead. Norwood’s memorial would include the names of 305 children who died at Jonestown. No adults, including Jones, would be listed.
“We’re demanding that Evergreen Cemetery not add the name of the executioner,” Norwood said. “Would they tell the Jewish community to put the name of Hitler on a Holocaust memorial? It’s insulting.”
Most Read Nation & World Stories
- Trump Promotes Posts From Racist Twitter Feed
- Wealthiest hospitals — including Providence Health System — got billions in bailout for struggling health providers
- The coronavirus is deadliest where Democrats live
- Biden marks Memorial Day at veterans park near Delaware home VIEW
- Undersea explorers find wreck of USS Nevada, the ship that almost escaped Pearl Harbor
More than 900 people died at Jonestown, a so-called utopian community established by Bay Area minister Jim Jones. On Nov. 18, 1978, Jones ordered his followers in the People’s Temple to drink cyanide-laced punch. Several others, including Rep. Leo Ryan, were shot and killed the same day when they arrived to investigate what families described as a cult.
Norwood’s group has been raising money for 12 years to install a memorial at Evergreen, where the only marker now is a simple flat stone that reads, “In Memory of the Victims of the Jonestown Tragedy, Nov. 18, 1978.”
Norwood’s memorial originally was planned to be seven 7-foot-tall slabs of black granite standing upright, inscribed with the names of 917 victims. Jones’ name would not be included.
But the project was scaled back due to the $90,000 price tag and the difficulties of installing such massive structures on an unstable hillside. In addition, Evergreen staff never signed off on the project, in part because of the engineering challenges.
Norwood’s group has already paid $30,000 to the memorial maker, Marin Monument Co., although now the proposal is a bit more modest: smaller slabs engraved with only children’s names.
Norwood’s cause could be a moot point, however. Evergreen and a second group of survivors, led in part by Jones’ son, Jim Jones Jr., are moving ahead with a $15,000 memorial they expect to install by the tragedy’s 33rd anniversary, Nov. 18.
The memorial is four flat, understated granite plaques that match the existing marker. It would include 918 names, including Jones.
“If we left off Jones’ name, we’d be giving him an awful lot of power,”said Fielding McGehee III, who lost several relatives at Guyana and is now head of the Jonestown Institute at San Diego State University. “Let’s recognize his culpability, but let’s also recognize his death.”
Jones was not the only one to blame for the massacre, McGehee said. Many others helped coordinate the deaths, from ordering the poison to shooting Ryan on the nearby tarmac.
“It really is hard to draw a line if we’re trying to define responsibility,”McGehee said. “Where does it stop?”