Childhood & Early Life
James Warren Jones was born on May 13, 1931 in Crete, Indiana to James Thurman Jones, a World War I veteran and Lynetta Putnam. His father was an alcoholic and worked as a mystic fortune teller.
His family went through an economic crisis during the Great Depression and had to move to Lynn, Indiana, in 1934.
As a child, Jim was heavily influenced by the works of Karl Marx, Joseph Stalin, Adolf Hitler and Mahatma Gandhi. He developed a keen interest in religion and its influence on people.
He was described as a ‘really weird kid’ as he was obsessed with death. He used to hold funerals for small animals and had also stabbed a cat to death.
Jim had a clash with his father when the latter did not allow one of Jim’s black friends to enter the house. Jim was always intolerant about the racial discrimination seen in America, mainly because of his own experiences as an outcast.
When his parents separated in 1948, Jim moved with his mother to Richmond, Indiana and graduated from Richmond High School in December 1948.
He got married quite young, to a nurse four years older than him in 1949. He moved to Bloomington, Indiana. There, he attended Indiana University Bloomington. In 1951, he moved to Indianapolis and attended night school at the Butler University and earned a degree in secondary education in 1961.
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The year 1951 can be regarded as the start of his career when he started attending meetings of the Communist party in Indianapolis. He was agitated by open communists in the USA. He asked himself, “How can I demonstrate my Marxism? The thought was to infiltrate the church.” The harassment and frustration had provoked him to do so.
A Methodist superintendent helped him get a start in the church. In 1952, he became a student pastor in the Somerset Southside Methodist Church. There, he observed that people with money are attracted to faith healing and such services and these financial resources can be helpful in his goals.
He arranged a huge convention from June11 to June 15, 1956. Thereafter, he launched his own church, changing names until finally it got to be known as the Peoples Temple Christian Church Full Gospel which was open to all races.
In 1960, he was appointed the Director of Human Rights Commission by Democratic Mayor Charles Boswell.
He started integrating police stations, Hospitals, churches, restaurants, etc. He started setting stings catching restaurants refusing to serve black customers or hospitals refusing black patients. Political pressure from Jones made quite a few hospitals desegregate the wards.
White owned businesses were critical of him. As a result of this, a dead cat was found thrown in his house, a swastika was drawn at the church, dynamite was thrown in the coal pile at a temple and many such events occurred.
He then adopted 3 children of partial non Caucasian ancestry and called it the rainbow family.
In 1963, he moved to Brazil. He didn’t portray himself as a communist. However, he stated his work with the Rio de Janeiro slum areas and explored local Brazilian syncretic religions. However, the guilt of leaving behind the Indiana struggle of civil rights made him return.
The temple was then moved to California. In the next five years, it gained much growth spawning branches in cities like San Fernando, San Francisco and Los Angeles.
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After being scrutinized by the media, he along with many other members shifted to the temple’s compound in Guyana. Jones then named this settlement after himself, calling it Jonestown.
Jonestown was a means to create a paradise for socialists and a place far away from media scrutiny. Around 68 percent of the residents were black.
After Jones’ departure, most of his followers broke ties. But, some didn’t.
Willie Brown was one of them. He kept defending Jones regarding him as a man of highest character, and even wrote a letter to President Carter.
After facing increasing scrutiny within the temple itself, Jones hired Mark Lane and Donald Freed to help make the case of a great conspiracy by intelligence agencies against the Temple.
In 1978, Leo Ryan along with other congress delegates attended a party hosted by Jones. However, after an attack on Ryan, the delegation left abruptly, taking with them 15 members who agreed to leave the Temple.
After the delegation left, Jones’ Red Brigade armed guards opened fire on them and managed to kill Ryan and 4 others.
Later that same day, 909 members died due to some sudden poisoning.
He explained his suicide as a revolutionary act condemning the inhumane world. This was known as the Jonestown massacre.
Jim and Marceline Jones adopted three children of Korean-American ancestry named Lew, Suzanne and Stephanie.
In 1954, they adopted an eleven year old girl of Native American ancestry named Agnes Jones.
In 1959, the couple had their first and only biological child - a son named Stephan Gandhi Jones.
In 1961, the Jones’ adopted James Warren Jr. and became the first couple to adopt a black child. They adopted another son and named him Tim Jones.