Follow the Leader: Jim Jones

*Post written by James Wethington, library assistant of the University Archives and Special Collections.

Before September 11, 2001, there was Jonestown. According to Rapaport (2003), “Jonestown was the greatest single loss of American civilian life in a non-natural disaster”. It is estimated over nine hundred individuals lost their lives in a mass suicide (The Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica, 2016b). In this two part series, “Follow the Leader: Jim Jones and Jonestown”, we are going examine leader, Jim Jones, and his agricultural commune, Jonestown.

Reverend Jim Jones standing outside of the International Hotel. The location and date are unknown. This photograph was taken from "The Weblog of J. Max Wilson" at

Rev. Jim Jones outside of the International Hotel (n.d.) Photograph Credit: J. Max Wilson

Jim Jones was born on May 13, 1931 near Lynn, Indiana. Jones attended church on a regular basis. After graduating from Butler University, Jones become a minister. During his tenure, Jones was an advocate for racial integration and founded the Wings of Deliverance, which later became the Peoples Temple in 1955. During the 1960’s, Jones was actively involved working with the homeless in Indianapolis; moreover, he served as director of Indianapolis’s Human Rights Commission. By 1965, Jones became paranoid and feared the possibility nuclear war; he moved his church to Ukiah, California and San Francisco in 1971 (The Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica, 2016a).

People were appealed to Jones, especially the African-American community, for two reasons: his mind reading and faith healing abilities (The Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica, 2016a). With his reputation and an increase of power, Jones let it go straight to his head. He embraced the nickname, “the Prophet” and allegations began to surface. His most notably allegation was accused of confiscating his member’s income and using it for his own needs. In late 1970’s, Jones and his members left the United States to Guyana, in South America, to establish their agricultural commune, Jonestown (The Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica, 2016b).

The University of Southern Indiana proudly presents: Jonestown Survivor, speaker, and author: Laura Johnston Kohl. Hear Kohl reflect on her experience and how she survived while 913 others perished. "Jonestown survivor - evolution of People's Temple in the 1960's and 1970's". Monday, April 10, 2017, at 6:30 PM, on USI Campus in Carter Hall in the University Center West. This is free and open to the public. More information at

Event Flyer, 2017

As a reminder, Rice Library and the Center for Communal Studies sponsoring a free lecture on April 10. The guest speaker is Laura Johnston-Kohl, a Jonestown survivor. The event will be located in Carter Hall at the University of Southern Indiana. This is a free event and it begins at promptly at 6:30 PM.









The Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica. (2016, April 14). Jonestown massacre. Retrieved April 6, 2017, from

The Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica. (2016, December 22). Jim Jones. Retrieved April 6, 2017, from

Rapaport, R. (2003, November 16). Jonestown and City Hall slayings eerily linked in time and memory / Both events continue to haunt city a quarter century later. Retrieved April 6, 2017, from

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