Cult leader Jim Jones promised his followers a utopia in the South American country of Guyana. Proclaiming himself the messiah of the Peoples Temple, a San Francisco-based evangelist group, he led his followers to commit mass suicide, leaving more than 900 dead on Nov. 18, 1978. It became known as the Jonestown Massacre. Of the 900-plus who died, 304 were under the age of 18.
Many of his followers were Black.
Journalist Robby Soave, a senior editor for Reason, tweeted, “A year before the Jonestown massacre, Angela Davis told Jim Jones: ‘We are with you, and we appreciate everything you have done.'”
Is Soave correct? Did Black power activist Angela Davis praise cult leader Jones, who led the mass suicide of his followers?
Before fleeing to Guyana, Jones faced various alleged charges, including that he was illegally diverting cult members’ income for his own use.
The U.S. government began investigating Jones and his followers when they moved to Guyana. Relatives of cult members in the U.S. alerted authorities of unsafe living conditions in Jonestown and alleged abuse by cult leaders. On Nov. 14, 1978, U.S. Rep. Leo Ryan of California traveled to Guyana with a group of reporters and relatives of cultists to conduct an unofficial investigation of alleged abuses. Four days later, as Ryan’s party and 14 cult defectors tried to leave, Jones ordered the group assassinated. Ryan and four others (including three reporters) were killed. Jones then activated his suicide plan.
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On Nov. 18, 1978, he commanded his followers to drink cyanide-adulterated punch, an order a majority obeyed. Jones died of a gunshot wound in the head, believed to be self-inflicted.
Jones founded the Peoples Temple in Indianapolis in the 1950s as an activist church. He preached multiracialism and civil rights. The church relocated to Los Angeles and San Francisco in the 1970s. Jones used the church to establish social welfare programs, housing, and health care for its predominantly African-American membership. When the church moved to Jonestown, Jones boasted it would be a racial utopia free from the white supremacy, oppression, and segregation of the U.S, wrote Sikivu Hutchinson, author of the book “White Nights, Black Paradise and Moral Combat: Black Atheists, Gender Politics and the Values Wars,” in Black Perspectives.
Perhaps this is why it attracted the attention of Black activists like Angela Davis.
Davis, who was once on the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s “Most Wanted List,” was an active member of the Communist Party and the Black Panther Party.
On September 10, 1977, she called Jonestown to issue her support for the group, according to San Diago State University, which has a transcript of her statement on its website about Jonestown.
“This is Angela Davis. I would like to say to my friend Jim Jones and all my sisters and brothers from Peoples Temple who are in Guyana there: know that there are people here, not only in the San Francisco Bay Area but also across the country, who are supporting you, who are with you,” Davis stated. She was broadcast over a speaker to the group. Huey Newton, co-founder of the Black Panther Party, also spoke.
“I know you are in a very difficult situation right now, and there is a conspiracy. A very profound conspiracy designed to destroy the contributions which you have made to our struggle. And this is why I must tell you that we feel that we are under attack as well. When you are attacked, it is because of your progressive stand, and we feel that it is directly an attack against us as well,” she continued.
Nearly 30 percent of those who died in Jonestown were African-American women (in a church that was at least 75 percent Black), according to Hutchinson.
This Jan. 1976 photo shows the Rev. Jim Jones, pastor of Peoples Temple in San Francisco. Dozens of Peoples Temple members in Guyana survived the mass suicides and murders of more than 900 because they had slipped out of Jonestown or happened to be away Nov. 18, 1978. Those raised in the temple or who joined as teens lost the only life they knew. (AP Photo/File)/Angela Davis is pictured in Marin County Superior Court, San Rafael, Calif., as she is held on charges of murder and kidnapping, 1971. (AP Photo)