#OnThisDay: Jonestown

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

Evansville Courier newspaper headline over Jonestown, 1978. Source: CS 462.

Evansville Courier headline about Jonestown, 1978. Source: CS 462.

On this day, thirty-nine years ago, over nine hundred individuals, made up of mostly Americans, committed a mass suicide in Jonestown, Guyana. Rapaport (2013) states, “Jonestown was the greatest single loss of American civilian in a non-natural disaster”. Jim Jones, an Indiana native and founder of Jonestown, orchestrated the event.

In 1974, Jim Jones and his followers moved to Guyana, in South America, to create his religious commune, Jonestown. Followers of Jones “… worked long days in the field and were subjected to harsh punishment if they questioned Jones’ authority. Their passports and medications were confiscated and they were plagued by mosquitoes and tropical diseases. Armed guards patrolled the jungle compound. Members were encouraged to inform on one another and were forced to attend lengthy, late-night meetings. Their letters and phone calls were censored” (History.com Staff, 2010).

Evansville Courier newspaper headline over Jonestown, 1978. Source: CS 462.

Evansville Courier headline about Jonestown, 1978. Source: CS 462.

Jones called for “…‘revolutionary suicide’ plan at the compound, which members had ‘practiced’ in the past” (Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica, 2017). On that fateful day, the solution was to drink “… a fruit drink laced with cyanide, tranquilizers, and sedatives” (Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica, 2017).

Last April, we did a two-part series, “Follow the Leader” and the University of Southern Indiana hosted Laura Johnston Kohl, a Jonestown survivor. For more information on these stories, click the link to “Jonestown”. Through the Rice Library Digital Collection, there are numerous religious communal groups such as Jesus People USA, Twin Oaks, Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-Day Saints, and many other collections. These groups have materials on their beliefs, publications, and much more available.


Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica (2017, June 16). Jonestown massacre. Retrieved November 6, 2017, from https://www.britannica.com/event/Jonestown-massacre

History.com Staff. (2010). Jonestown. Retrieved April 7, 2017, from http://www.history.com/topics/jonestown

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 http://www.sfgate.com/opinion/article/Jonestown-and-City-Hall-slayings-eerily-linked-in-2548703.php

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