Alternative Considerations of Jonestown & Peoples Temple

Jim Jones and His Peoples Temple: Dual Racial Identities, Dual Results – But as Jones cultivated the Temple’s official outward ideology as a mixed-race human service ministry, Reverend J. Alfred Smith later explained how Jones had both white authority, “and the rhythm and the cadence of the preaching style of black.”[38] Smith, Jones’ counterpart and black pastor of Oakland’s Allen Baptist Church, revealed how inside Peoples Temple, Jones attempted to create a distinctly African American persona for himself. Most significantly, Jones referenced his own blackness in sermons, like in 1973: “You better say that black-haired nigger Jim believes in what he’s doing.”[39] Smith described how Jones’ sermon rhetoric “used the same metaphorical, theological language and vocabulary” Smith and other black preachers employed, including participatory “call and response” and “oral tradition.”[40] Smith explained, “If you closed your eyes and listened to him preach, you would swear you were listening to a black man.”[41] In 1953, W. E. B. Du Bois noted the traditional Black Church focus on “the Preacher,”[42] and Jones represented the archetypal, dominant Pentecostal Black Church pastor, acting as a traditional “charismatic” leader and speaking in tongues in sermons.[43] Jones also asserted his paternalism to his congregants, like in 1973: “Father will take you in,”[44] likely shaped after Father Divine, the African American religious leader of a mid-1950s “interracial movement.”[45] Jones made even grander Pentecostal “Prophet” and “messenger of God”[46] claims, and referenced his own “Godliness,” including fervently in 1974: “when I say Goddamnit it, I guess I can damn it, because I’m God.”[47] While presenting himself as black, Jones also sought to give his congregation an all-black identity. He claimed that his parishioners were African American: “you look white, but honey, you’re a nigger like Father Jim.”[48] Peoples Temple services also followed customary Black Church practices. Milmon F. Harrison explains how services modeled “emotionally expressive Pentecostal tradition” rooted in “traditional black worship styles.”[49] Peoples Temple adhered to traditional emphasis on “the Music, and the Frenzy” that Du Bois cited in black churches;[50] key worship elements included organ music, along with “shouts, cheering, or the clapping of hands.”[51] Temple visitors described services having “African-style dance” and “inspirational songs” often “associated with the civil rights movement,” such as “We Shall Overcome.”[52] Inherent to the Temple’s promotion of blackness within the congregation was a dual effort to reject mainstream, white society, while also instilling fear amongst blacks. A 1976 Peoples Forum article illustrated how American culture associated ” ‘white’ with goodness and ‘black’ with evil.”[53] In sermons, Jones also discussed society’s predisposition to whiteness: “You’re black and kill a white person, you’ve had trouble . If you’re black and kill a black, they may not even pick you up.”[54] Countering this conventional racism, Jones told his congregants: “Black is a disposition. To act against evil. To do good.”[55] At the same time, Temple literature and sermons included millennialist, apocalyptic fear of racial attack, especially against African Americans. A 1976 Peoples Forum article warned that a genetic or chemical weapon could destroy ethnic groups, and the accompanying image showed a black face encircled by a gun target,[56] designed to cultivate panic specifically amongst black readership.

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