|[Jim Jones preaching before congregation], circa 1973-1977, Photographs from Peoples Temple records, California Historical Society, MSP 3800.01.0019|
by Eugene Smith
Eugene Smith joined Peoples Temple in 1973 and lived in the Temple’s San Francisco commune before leaving for Jonestown in fall 1977. He was in Georgetown on November 18 clearing items from customs. Numerous members of his family – including his mother, wife, and infant son – died in Jonestown.
Learn more about People's Temple from and view items from CHS's Peoples Temple Records Collection on October 21, 2015 at 3:30 PM as we welcome David Talbot, author of Season of the Witch: Enchantment, Terror, and Deliverance in the City of Love; Marshall Kilduff, San Francisco Chronicle Editorial Writer: Eugene Smith, author of a forthcoming book about Peoples Temple, Jonestown, and Jim Jones from a young Black man's point of view; and John Cobb, an author who was born into Peoples Temple and was a member until it's end on 11/18/78. This event is part of the 11th annual One City One Book event; this year's selection is David Talbot's Season of the Witch.
The piece below is an excerpt from a book by Mr. Smith.
When we were not working, we were swimming, running, going to meetings, loading and unloading the buses, seeing to the Seniors, playing with the kids, and this all started at around 0600 hours and lasted to about 2300, depending on whether the meeting was in San Francisco, LA, or Redwood Valley.
If we were in SF, or LA, the nights were much longer, more like 0100 hrs to 0330 hours respectively. 6 o’clock was still 6 o’clock, Monday morning? Damn, already? No use going to bed, I’ll just shit, shower, and shave. Triple SSS. It all seemed normal, totally normal. Here is one reason why it seemed so normal. You were interacting with hundreds of people on a daily basis, and a thousand or more people on a Saturday and Sunday. It seemed like a big world.
So when you looked around, everybody else seemed to be doing the same thing? The best they could, all the time. Blood, sweat, and tears, some folks gave it their all. It seemed as if people were joining daily, for years. Therefore, when I say hundreds and thousands, it’s real. What was amazing! was that many people remembered who you were and what your area of responsibility was, or what your donation to the “Cause” was.
That type of interaction, on a regular basis, caused you to simulate the habit of remembering. After all, this was family. One should know the names of your family and what they do. You could go a week or two and not interact with an outsider. It all seemed so normal. At that point, Peoples Temple became your world. In addition, TV became a distraction, unless there was a story about the Temple, or you had the responsibility of monitoring the News. However, listening to the radio and reading were encouraged. Reading an article and remembering what one had read saved moi, from a possible embarrassment on stage, on the floor, and more about that later.
It’s raining like hell, and it’s still hot, muddy, bumpy, miserable, exciting, edgy, crazy, risky, momentous, frightening, anxious, hopeful, “JUMP”.
I could see this eerie light in the distance a glow. Then I hear the people, voices, screaming, and singing. At the moment it is Monsoon season and I’m behind a farm tractor, being pulled down the road in a metal trailer, hanging, holding on as best as one could. I have never seen potholes the size of these in my life, and drive through them. We managed to hit, fall into, and climb out of, every hole there was only to do it again and again for miles and for the next couple of hours. But the real relevant point is that it’s dark, real dark. The jungle is there, you just can’t see it.
JUMP! We start jumping off the back and side of this trailer into this mud. Excellent. I have arrived. The pavilion was packed. DAMNNN, this is crazy. I see Ollie, then I see my mom, old friends, folks I thought were gone were here. Ollie was big – 8 and a half months pregnant – and she was beautiful. In the group that I arrived with, we were 100 strong. We increased the population of Jonestown by 10% overnight. So to say things were not comfortable is a understatement. So we are singing and clapping, looking, listening, making mental notes. This goes on for awhile.
It’s a hyped environment frenzied. I can see Jones on stage. As the music died down, Jones was calling names. Damn…