Friday, June 19, 2009

People's Temple

He's Able, People's Temple Choir, 1973 Brotherhood Records
Last year was the 30th anniversary of the Jonestown mass suicide (11/18/1978). In its rare materials, the GTU library has the record album that the People's Temple Choir recorded in 1973. We also have a small Responses to Jonestown collection. The collection was one where library staff solicited materials related to the event. Within this collection, along with newspapers from Guyana, are copies of sermons and articles in religious publications in response to the tragedy.

Most of the responses address the mass suicide as an issue of cults and false prophets. A few point to issues closer at hand. Martin P. Choate, president of the Berkeley Area Interfaith Council, December 9, 1978, concludes their statement:
In this sad time...let it become a call to all of us to put our religious houses in order. In the words of St. Francis:
Where there is hatred, let us sow love;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope.

There is an amazing amount of material about Jonestown on the web. The music from He's Able is reproduced in full at WFMU's Beware of the Blog. The Department of Religious Studies at San Diego State created in incredible detail Alternative Considerations of Jonestown and Peoples Temple. In other mediums, at least two documentaries came out last year. Finally, the church and Jim Jones is captured in the play The People's Temple by Leigh Fondakowski with Greg Pierotti, Stephen Wangh and Margo Hall. This was first performed by the Berkeley Reporatory Theater in 2005 and most recently ran in Chicago in 2008. The play features music from He's Able.

This post was prompted by two events. First, a chance encounter with one of the attendees to the Western Archives Institute, this year in Berkeley. He said that the National Archives and Records Administration office in San Bruno, whose building is named after Congressman Leo W. Ryan (who was killed at Jonestown), also holds his papers, which are waiting to be processed. Second, finding the album in our rare record section and discovering that the music is online.

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