Peoples Temple Collection
Scope and Contents
The Peoples Temple Collection (1942-2015) documents portions of the history of Peoples Temple, before and after the mass-suicide and murders in 1978. The collection consists of litigation materials derived Freedom of Information Act requests, copies of original unclassified documents, publications, audiovisual materials, artifacts, and artwork and pays particular attention to the events that unfolded for survivors and relatives after the tragedy. The collection is divided into six series: Peoples Temple Christian Church, Audiovisual Materials, Investigation Files, Jonestown Institute Files, Publications, and Original Works of Art.
The Peoples Temple Christian Church series is organized chronologically with sub-series divided into periods of the church’s history: Redwood Valley, Ukiah, and San Francisco, California, Peoples Temple Agricultural Project, and Post-Jonestown. Within each sub-series, materials are organized alphabetically. Redwood Valley, Ukiah, and San Francisco, California consists of administrative and promotional materials. Peoples Temple Agricultural Project includes correspondence from Jonestown, declarations and affidavits, and a progress report. Ann Moore’s last letter, written shortly before her death, is particularly notable. The Post-Jonestown sub-series is comprised of correspondence, memorial service programs and memorabilia, and artifacts recovered from Jonestown. Laurie Efrein’s papers are also included in this sub-series, which contain her research into conspiracy theories about the deaths in 1978.
Audiovisual Materials is the largest of the six series in this collection, and is divided into seven sub-series according to material type: Audio Cassette Tapes, Summaries, and Transcripts, Photographs, DVDs, Compact Discs and Vinyl Records, CD-ROMs, VHS Tapes, and Microfilm and Microfiche.
The most significant of these sub-series is Audio Cassette Tapes, Summaries, and Transcripts, which is further divided as Audio Cassette Tapes, Summaries and Transcripts by the Jonestown Institute, and Summaries by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Tapes retrieved by the FBI at Jonestown are identified by the letter Q, followed by a number (e.g., Q134), which was arbitrarily assigned by the FBI after the agency's initial review and copying of the original reel-to-reel audio recordings. In addition to the FBI cassette tapes, the collection contains 24 tapes of Federal Communications Commission (FCC) recordings of Temple shortwave radio traffic and 59 assorted recordings by psychologist Margaret Singer, a renowned expert in the subject of mind control. Singer became interested in Peoples Temple shortly before the deaths in Jonestown in November 1978. She was asked to work with former members at the Human Freedom Center, an organization established to help people leave the Temple. For more complete biographical information on Margaret Singer, click here.
Digital copies of nearly all materials are provided, as well as a Personal Name Index to facilitate research.
In addition, the Photographs sub-series has been divided into: Peoples Temple Photographs, Federal Bureau of Investigation Photographs, Moore Family Photographs, California Historical Society Photographs, and Time Magazine Photograph. Peoples Temple Photographs consists of membership and passport photographs. The Federal Bureau of Investigation Photographs sub-sub-series includes photographs taken by the investigative group shortly after the deaths at Jonestown. Moore Family Photographs consists of three photograph albums containing family photographs and photographs from John and Barbara Moore’s visit to Jonestown. The other sub-sub-series are: California Historical Society Photographs, which are housed on CD-ROMs, and Time Magazine Photograph.
The Investigation Files series consists of two sub-series: Federal Investigation and Private Investigation, both organized alphabetically. Federal Investigation is further sub-divided as Litigation Files, Released Information, and Documents Related to Larry Layton's Petition for Commutation of Sentence. Litigation Files consists of the correspondence, court documents, and notes from Fielding McGehee III and Rebecca Moore’s suits against the United States government to procure information through the Freedom of Information Act. Released Information includes copies of original unclassified documents given to McGehee and Moore by the government. The documents include a collection of various papers retrieved from Jonestown that include personnel files and member profiles; financial and medical inventories and records; affidavits, letters, and diaries written by Peoples Temple members; contact information between Jonestown and various countries; and documents of contact between Peoples Temple and various U.S. government agencies. Documents Related to Larry Layton's Petition for Commutation of Sentence consists of documents pertaining to Layton's case, including items such as letters from jurors, letters from prosecution witnesses, and transcripts from the hearing. The Private Investigation sub-series is made up of bills, correspondence, notes, and requests for information from the federal government gathered during the course of a private investigation.
Jonestown Institute Files is organized alphabetically and comprised of correspondence, materials for the “Persons Who Died” list, copies of the jonestown report newsletter, and oral history project materials.
The Publications series is divided into Published and Unpublished works of Fiction, Non-Fiction, and Drama, Newspapers, News Magazines, and News Clippings, Scanned News Clippings, and Correspondence Regarding Publications. Published and Unpublished Works of Fiction, Non-Fiction, and Drama is organized alphabetically by the author’s last name. Notable works include Edith Roller’s journal (more information here), Rebecca Moore’s scholarly works, and Michael Bellefountaine’s work on A Lavender Look at the Temple. Bellefountaine’s drafts are numbered, but not in chronological order. Newspapers, News Magazines, and News Clippings consist of news items published before and after the events on November 18, 1978 in various formats. Materials are organized alphabetically by publication title. Scanned News Clippings consists of a list of PDF scans of news articles focused on Peoples Temple and Jonestown that are available by request. Correspondence Regarding Publications consists of letters and other correspondence between various authors writing about Peoples Temple and Jonestown and either Rebecca Moore or Fielding McGehee.
Original Works of Art consists of five framed works of art, Laura Baird’s Jonestown Carpet, and ceramics that Larry Layton made while imprisoned.
- Creation: 1942-2019
- Creation: Majority of material found in 1972-2011
- Peoples Temple (Organization)
Conditions Governing Access
This collection is open for research.
Conditions Governing Use
The copyright interests in some or all of these materials have not been transferred to San Diego State University. Copyright resides with the creator(s) of materials contained in the collection or their heirs. The nature of archival collections is such that multiple creators are often applicable and copyright status may be difficult or even impossible to determine. In any case, the user must assume full responsibility for any use of the materials, including but not limited to, obtaining publication rights and copyright infringement. When requesting images from Special Collections & University Archives for publication, we require a signed agreement waiving San Diego State University of any liability in the event of a copyright violation.
In 1954, a young preacher in Indianapolis, Indiana named James Warren Jones left his position with the Laurel Street Tabernacle of the Assemblies of God Pentecostal Church over the church's inability to accept racial integration. Together with other disaffected congregants, Jones founded a new, more open church named the Wings of Deliverance Church. As the congregation grew and gained mainline church affiliation, it adopted a new name: Peoples Temple Christian Church. Peoples Temple emphasized the need for racial integration and made social welfare projects its primary focus. As its views expanded, the congregation met much resistance from the public and thus was forced to move the location of the church numerous times. Eventually, Jones decided to leave Indiana. He chose the rural area of Redwood Valley in northern California as his destination after reading an article in Esquire magazine, which described it as one of the few places in the world that would survive a nuclear holocaust.
Redwood Valley and its nearest town, Ukiah, were idyllic, but they weren't perfect. Almost all-white, the area had difficulties of its own with a multiracial church. Jones acquired church facilities in San Francisco and Los Angeles, urban areas that were both more accepting of the Temples members and where the social services that the church offered were more needed. Jones eventually moved the main headquarters of the church to San Francisco but continued to minister in all three locations, sometimes during the same weekend.
Jones's sense of mission was not complete, however. Haunted by what he perceived as the inevitability of Americas nuclear annihilation and confronted on a daily basis with the inescapable racism he saw in American society, Jones looked elsewhere to build a utopian society which he referred to as the Promised Land. Its location was in Guyana, an English-speaking, black-governed socialist democracy on the north coast of South America. Beginning in 1974, Temple pioneers worked to construct the community formally known as the Peoples Temple Agricultural Mission, but better known as Jonestown, and leaders of the group planned for a slow, steady migration of Temple members to begin in mid-1977.
About that time, however, the Temple began receiving unfavorable news coverage generated by some of its apostates. The same disaffected members also filed lawsuits to reclaim property which they had previously donated to the church, as well as court petitions for custody of their relatives still in the church. Their allegations, and the press coverage of them, led to investigations by various federal and state government agencies, including ones that threatened the church's very existence, such as Internal Revenue Service. Jones' response was to speed up the migration to the Promised Land. What once was planned to extend over many months was reduced to a six-week period in late summer 1977.
Jones' problems didn't end there, though. The same Temple defectors, now united in an organization called Concerned Relatives, continued to call for government investigations and to press for decisions by American courts on their petitions. They also lobbied for congressional action, bringing their pleas to the attention of Leo Ryan (D-CA), the representative of several Temple members and families.
Congressman Ryan agreed to conduct a neutral, fact-finding mission in November of 1978 to assess the situation at Jonestown, but he took a number of Jones antagonists with him. Jones immediate inclination was to decline permission for a visit to the community, but his lawyers prevailed upon him to relent, and the Ryan party arrived in Jonestown on November 17. The visit seemed to go well on the first day, but on the second day, a number of Jonestown residents, unhappy with living and working conditions in the Promised Land, asked to leave with Ryan.
The events of the next few hours remain shrouded in mystery. What is known is that the Ryan party, now enlarged by 16 defectors, returned to a jungle airstrip at Port Kaituma, about five miles from Jonestown, in preparation to return to Guyana's capital of Georgetown and then back to the U.S. Shortly after their arrival at the airstrip, a tractor towing a flatbed trailer pulled up at the other end of the airstrip, and men on the trailer started firing weapons. A few minutes later, Ryan and four others were dead, and a half dozen more were wounded.
Meanwhile, back in Jonestown, Jones proclaimed that all was lost, and that when Guyanese military forces soon invaded the community, they shouldn't find anyone alive. According to a tape made during the final hours, Jones warned that they would be tortured, and that it was better to die by their own hands. Some of the few survivors deny that the deaths were by suicide, and point to the presence of guards and the injection marks found on many of the bodies. Whatever the circumstances, the results shocked the world: 909 dead at Jonestown, five dead at Port Kaituma, and four Temple members dead in Georgetown.
67.80 Linear Feet
Language of Materials
I. Peoples Temple Christian Church
1. Redwood Valley, Ukiah, and San Francisco, California
2. Peoples Temple Agricultural Project (Jonestown)
II. Audiovisual Materials
1. Audio Cassette Tapes, Summaries, and Transcripts
a. Audio Cassette Tapes
b. Summaries and Transcripts by the Jonestown Institute
c. Summaries by the Federal Bureau of Investigation
a. Peoples Temple Photographs
b. Federal Bureau of Investigation Photographs
c. Moore Family Photographs
d. California Historical Society Photographs
e. Time Magazine Photograph
4. Compact Discs and Vinyl Records
6. VHS Tapes
7. Microfilm and Microfiche
III. Investigation Files
1. Federal Investigation
a. Litigation Files
b. Released Information
c. Documents Related to Larry Layton's Petition for Commutation of Sentence
2. Private Investigation
IV. Jonestown Institute Files
1. Published and Unpublished Works of Fiction, Non-Fiction, and Drama
2. Newspapers, News Magazines, and News Clippings
3. Scanned News Clippings
4. Correspondence Regarding Publications
VI. Original Works of Art
Source of Acquisition
Rebecca Moore and Fielding McGehee III
Method of Acquisition
Unclassified government documents were obtained by McGehee and Dr. Rebecca Moore and through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
Accruals and Additions
2003-040, 2004-024, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008-018, 2009, 2012-021, 2014-036, 2015-018, 2015-020, 2015-028, 2015-040, 2016-002, 2017-037, 2019-030
Other Descriptive Information
A personal name index to the transcribed audio tapes is available online and in the Louis A. Kenney Reading Room.
- Peoples Temple Collection
- Taylor de Klerk
- Description rules
- Describing Archives: A Content Standard
- Language of description
- Script of description
- Language of description note