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Jones used white liberalism and performative allyship to target mostly poor Black folks, seduce them into his abusive cult, take their money, and orchestrate the death of over 900 people.

This essay contains discussions of suicide, murder, and spiritual abuse

Black people were integral to Jim Jones’ ambitions. Without black followers, and black causes to encourage and support, Jones might have ended up pastoring a tiny Methodist congregation in backwater Indiana, largely frustrated and entirely unknown” (273)

—Jeff Guin, The Road to Jonestown: Jim Jones and Peoples Temple

Sunday marked the 40th anniversary of the massacre at Jonestown. Jim Jones is a name that many people know or have at least heard of. It’s a name that invokes fear and awe. “Mass suicide” is the story that most know about Jonestown, but much of that is a fiction or an incomplete truth. Those who refused to drink the concoction of grape Flavor Aid laced with cyanide were held down and injected with the poison or executed by the armed guards. This is how up to a third of Jonestown, nearly 300 people, met their end on November 18, 1978, murdered on Jim Jones’ command. When we remember Jonestown, we cannot only examine that gruesome ending. We have to look at what led up to it and the insidious methods used by Jones to manipulate his followers. Jones used white liberalism and performative allyship to target mostly poor Black folks, seduce them into his abusive cult, take their money, and orchestrate the death of over 900 people. Peoples Temple began as a community of citizens who believed in racial equality and social justice, but unbeknownst to them, they were being led by a man whose only motivation was power and control. What Jones wanted more than anything else was immortality. He wanted his name to be eternal and he wanted to achieve this immortality through having total sway and dominance over others, a man who “seemed to believe that once he did anything for someone, from that moment forward the person belonged to him, with no right to disagree about anything or ever leave” (60). [caption id="attachment_50250" align="aligncenter" width="800"] Jim Jones in Guyana[/caption] In the low-income, inner city Black communities of Indianapolis, Jones saw real injustice, but he also saw people he could easily manipulate and take advantage of. He saw an easy, unobstructed path to power and having people indebted to him, belonging to him, and he used his position as a spiritual leader to lure them into his web. “Trapped in poverty, confined to vermin-ridden slums where their children were educated in crumbling, underequipped schools, African Americans in the city most often found church to be their only source of solace. It was a relief to spend long hours there, listening to sermons reminding them of God’s love and His promise of heaven, eternal land in a milk-and-honey Promised Land. Commiseration now and better times after death were the message of the city’s black churches. Their ministers did little to help their members overcome the immediate challenges of Indianapolis and its apparent unassailable racism. It took a white preacher to show them how” (67).
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