The Deacon's Bench

It was one of the most horrific stories of the 20th century — a century that didn’t lack for horrors — and now plans are underway to erect a permanent memorial to the victims of the mass suicide at Jonestown:

A group of Peoples Temple survivors announced plans Thursday for a granite monument inscribed with the names of more than 900 people who died in the Jonestown tragedy 32 years ago to the day.

jonestown.jpgSome ex-members have grown impatient with efforts by the Rev. Jynona Norwood over the decades to erect a 36-foot-long stone wall, like the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, at the Oakland cemetery where more than more than 400 unidentified and unclaimed victims are buried.

Those planning the new memorial include Jim Jones Jr., an adopted son of the temple leader. Jones told The Associated Press it’s time to move forward with an alternative monument — four large stone slabs that would be sunk flat on the grassy mass grave site overlooking San Francisco Bay.

“It’s been 32 years,” said Jones, who lost his parents, his pregnant wife and several other relatives in the mass murders and suicides. “I have loved ones and their name is not listed anywhere.”

Norwood, whose family lost 27 relatives in the tragedy, said she would press ahead with her own memorial, even though cemetery management says it is impractical for the site. Asked about the competing plan, she said angrily, “They want the people forgotten, so put their names on the ground.”

The new memorial plans came as about 40 people attended services featuring civil rights activist and comedian Dick Gregory.

Norwood has conducted annual services that eventually attracted ex-members as it became more widely accepted that they were idealistic people betrayed by temple pastor Jim Jones, who built an integrated church with a social message. But some were put off by the religious tenor of the services or felt that Norwood excessively demonized Jones while paying tribute to the dead members. Dozens gravitated to private anniversary gatherings here in recent years.

Another sore point emerged on the 30th anniversary service when Norwood brought the first panels of the wall on a sturdy trailer. She made clear the Rev. Jones’ name would not be inscribed on the panels, saying it would be an insult to the victims.

“It’s like putting Hitler’s name on a memorial for the Jewish community,” she said Thursday.

Read more.

And this news report from a few years ago retells the heartbreaking story of the event that put the phrase “drink the Kool Aid” into the lexicon.

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