Jonestown Memorial unveiled in Oakland

November 18, 2008 4:09:48 PM PST
A memorial was unveiled in Oakland Tuesday to remember the victims of the infamous Jonestown massacre. 30 years ago 1000 followers of cult leader Jim Jones died in Guyana.

Present were survivors, politicians and ministers who spoke at the ceremony. The celebration was poignant this year, including the partial unveiling of a long-awaited memorial wall, slated to be fully featured next year.

Right now only a small, simple gray headstone at Oakland's Evergreen Cemetery, marks 406 unclaimed bodies, mostly children, who died in Guyana during the mass killings 30 years ago today.

Peoples' Temple leader Jim Jones had ordered his followers to poison themselves with a cyanide-laced drink after U.S. Congressman Leo Ryan of San Mateo visited his compound on a fact-finding trip and many temple members tried defecting.

In total 918 American citizens died- including Jones, Congressman Ryan and some members of the media who were gunned down by a temple security squad.

A seven-panel granite wall with the names of the dead, including a red heart with 305 childrens' names, will be the first-ever Jonestown Memorial.

Dr. Jynona Norwood championed this tribute. She lost 27 family members.

"So this wall will serve as a memorial for generations to come. It will raise public awareness that you never give up your free thinking ability to anyone. And, if it sounds too good to be true, more than likely it is," said Norwood.

Valaray Bluford, a former Peoples' Temple member who lost family members at Jonestown said, "We've been suffering trying to get the wall up, and I just think it's a great day today"

Dr. Norwood says 917 names and ages will be engraved on the panel walls. They include all of those who died except Jim Jones, the man she says deceived nearly 1000 people who followed him from San Francisco to Guyana with the belief he was helping the poor and creating a community with racial harmony.

Only two of the 5,000-pound panels were unveiled during Tuesday's anniversary ceremony. The remainder are still being made. The entire Jonestown Memorial wall will be unveiled during next year's 31st anniversary.


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