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On Nov. 18, 1978, the world as we knew it was changed forever: 918 victims, of whom 305 were children – including 40 infants – lost their lives along with U.S. Congressman Leo Ryan and a United Press International film crew. The place was Peoples Temple in Jonestown, Guyana – that Paradise of Pain – founded and led by James Warren “Jim” Jones, forever rendered infamous by its name “Jonestown.”
Seventy-five percent of the membership of Peoples Temple was African American, and the majority of those who died in Jonestown were African American women. The Jonestown victims have been demonized and marginalized – stripped of agency and, in many respects, humanity. The settlement was envisioned – and promoted – as a kind of “Promised Land,” a racial utopia and antidote to the white supremacist violence and dehumanization Black people experienced in the U.S.