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The Jonestown Settlement: Background information when reading New People

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New People

by Danzy Senna

New People by Danzy Senna X
New People by Danzy Senna
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  • First Published:
    Aug 2017, 240 pages
    Jul 2018, 256 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Norah Piehl
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About this Book

The Jonestown Settlement

This article relates to New People

Print Review

In New People, Maria's dissertation focuses on the Jonestown settlement in Guyana and on the massacre that resulted in the death of some 900 men, women, and children from poisoning on November 18, 1975. Jonestown was developed, and sold to believers, as a sort of utopian community led by Jim Jones, who founded the People's Temple in Indianapolis in the 1950s. This Christian sect preached a message of inclusion, equality, and anti-racism, and consequently attracted many African Americans — though Jones himself was white. The settlement's formal name was The People's Temple Agricultural Project.

Jim Jones Eventually, former People's Temple members and the families of current ones began to alert authorities that the group was exhibiting cult-like tendencies, limiting people's freedoms, in particular the freedom to leave the group (which was denied to almost everyone), as well as the choice of romantic partners. People who didn't follow the rules were intimidated or beaten.

In particular, the group drew the attention of California congressman Leo Ryan, who had become known (or infamous) for his fact-finding missions investigating sensational situations. Ryan received permission to go to Jonestown to investigate why so many Americans had relocated there. While Ryan was there, Jim Jones and his supporters put on a show to convince the congressman that all was well; but outside the public eye, numerous Jonestown residents approached Ryan and his delegation to ask for help.

Even as the 900 Jonestown residents were persuaded to "drink the Kool-Aid," the next day, Ryan and a group of Jonestown defectors were poised to leave the area. One of them, who was posing as a defector, pulled out a gun and killed Ryan, as well as another defector and three journalists. As for Jones, the charismatic, controlling cult leader was found dead as well, from what is assumed to be a self-inflicted gunshot wound. The Jonestown massacre left many idealists reeling after this utopian experiment went so horrifically awry.

Picture of Jim Jones by Nancy Wong

Article by Norah Piehl

This article relates to New People. It first ran in the August 2, 2017 issue of BookBrowse Recommends.

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