Controversy over a proposed memorial for the victims of the 1978 Jonestown massacre came to a head Monday at the Oakland cemetery where more than 400 of the People’s Temple suicide cult followers are buried.
The Rev. Jynona Norwood–who lost her mother and 26 other family members in the mass suicide on Nov. 18, 1978 — and her Jonestown Foundation have designed a monument for the victims, many of who were from the Bay Area.
The mass suicide was ordered by the Rev. Jim Jones, whose People’s Temple was headquartered in San Francisco before moving to Guyana to create a utopian society.
Norwood was joined Monday at Oakland’s Evergreen Cemetery by the Rev. Leonard Jackson of First AME Church and others connected to the 918 infants, children, men and women who perished in the massacre.
The proposed monument would exclude the name of Jones, who also died after manipulating his followers into drinking the poison-laced punch that killed the cult members.
Norwood wants the monument to honor the 305 children and infants, along with others murdered.
“To forget about the children and to even allow someone’s name there that ordered 305 children to me murdered is unfathomable,” Norwood said.
A separate coalition, led by Jim Jones’ adopted son, Jim Jones Jr., wants to erect a monument that includes the names of everyone who died in Jonestown, including the elder Jones.
“I’m not saying you should recognize Jim Jones; his actions were horrific,” the younger Jones said. “But to leave his name off gives him more attention.”
Currently, a small gravestone marker memorializes the dead Jonestown members.
Jones plans to include the existing marker in the memorial space, which his coalition–comprised of relatives of deceased members–hopes to build and complete by November.
“You need a tribute, not a monument,” Jones said. “Let’s have a place to have healing.”
Evergreen Cemetery director Ronald Haulman said there are structural issues with Norwood’s monument proposal unrelated to its written content. Haulman said the size and weight of the granite design is not feasible for the space.
“It compromises the safety of the location,” Haulman said of the proposed four-ton monument Norwood has requested be placed above the mass grave.
Nonetheless, Norwood, who has already put down $10,000 for the memorial’s first panel, is still fighting for its construction.
In 2008, Norwood commissioned the monument at Marin Monument Company on Evergreen Cemetery’s recommendation, but now she has been told her seven-panel proposal is unfit for the space and will not be approved.
“Evergreen has done an injustice to our children, our community,” Norwood said. “This is just a second Jonestown, dishonoring the memory.”
Sasha Lekach, Bay City News