Peoples Temple

From Academic Kids

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Brochure of the People's Temple portraying cult leader Jim Jones as the loving father of the "Rainbow Family".

The Peoples Temple was a cult that is best known for a mass suicide at Jonestown, Guyana, on November 18, 1978. The Temple was founded in 1953, at Indianapolis, Indiana, USA, by Reverend Jim Jones.

In Indianapolis, and at the California cities of Ukiah, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, where Jones extended new branches of his church, they earned a good reputation for aiding the cities' poorest citizens, especially racial minorities, drug addicts, and the homeless. Soup kitchens, daycare centers, and medical clinics for elderly people were set up, along with counseling programs for prostitutes and drug addicts who wanted to change their lives.

Then disturbing accounts began to spring up, told by a few people who had succeeded in leaving the cult. Jones was stealing from his followers, faked the miracle healings, was punishing the members severely, practicing sodomy with male members, and now considered himself the new Messiah.

By now, journalists, law enforcement officials, and politicians were showing interest in Jones' group. Jim Jones reacted with frequent long and angry speeches, where he claimed that the defectors lied, and the outside world was trying to destroy them. At the time, more former members told of beatings and abuse within the People's Temple, and relatives of members insisted that members were being forced to remain there against their will.

Jones reacted by moving his church, over 800 followers, to Guyana. The followers were promised a tropical paradise, free from the wickedness of the outside world, but when they arrived, they were forced to work by Jones' orders, and together they built Jonestown.

In November 1978, the cult was visited by Leo Ryan, a United States Congressman, who was investigating claims of abuse. A number of Temple members expressed a desire to leave along with the Congressman, and the entire group went to the local airstrip. Temple security guards fired on the group, killing Congressman Ryan, three journalists, and a Temple member who wanted to leave. The shootings were captured on film by one of the journalists who died in the attack.

Later that day, Jones ordered his congregation to drink a cyanide-laced fruit drink in the Jonestown mass suicide. Those who resisted were shot, strangled or injected with cyanide. Jones was found with a shot wound in his head. Upon investigation his body contained high doses of drugs. In all, 914 people died. Some say 911 died (see Jonestown for details).

Shortly after the mass suicide, the building housing the Peoples Temple in San Francisco — located at 1859 Geary Boulevard in the city's Western Addition neighborhood — was demolished, and the property remained undeveloped until the United States Postal Service opened a post office at the site more than two decades later. The temple's telephone number — WAlnut 1-9654 — has never been re-assigned to another customer.

The Peoples Temple is not to be confused with The Temple of the People, a non-denominational religious organization headquartered at Halcyon, California.

The Peoples Temple is not to be confused with Peoples Church (, an independent church affiliated with the Assemblies of God in Fresno, California.


  • "When you meet the friendliest people you have ever known, who introduce you to the most loving group of people you've ever encountered, and you find the leader to be the most inspired, caring, compassionate and understanding person you've ever met, and then you learn the cause of the group is something you never dared hope could be accomplished, and all of this sounds too good to be true-it probably is too good to be true! Don't give up your education, your hopes and ambitions to follow a rainbow." by Jeannie Mills aka Deanna Mertle who was an early defector from the People’s temple, author of the book "Six years with God," and co-founder of the Concerned Relatives and the Human Freedom Center. Jeannie Mills, along with her husband and daughter, were murdered in 1980.

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