Families, cemetery clash over Jonestown memorial

February 28, 2011 7:23:38 PM PST
A fight is brewing between families of victims from the People's Temple massacre more than three decades ago and an Oakland cemetery. The battle is over plans for a memorial.

The victims of the massacre were followers of a San Francisco cult leader who took them to Guyana with the promise of building a utopia. Evergreen Cemetery is the final resting place for about half of those who died. But some of their families say there will not be peace until their memorial is built.

Church leaders and families of some of the victims attended a gathering Monday on the mass gravesite where 400 bodies are buried.

Jynona Norwood organized the event.

"Seventeen children in my family died in Jonestown; 10 adults in my family died in Jonestown," Norwood said.

In 1978, more than 900 followers of the Rev. Jim Jones died in the mass murder-suicide at a commune in Jonestown, Guyana. Almost all were from the Bay Area. A congressman and members of a television news crew were also murdered at a nearby airstrip.

Norwood's group says Evergreen Cemetery reneged on its promise years ago to erect a memorial wall with the victims' names. The group has already paid thousands of dollars to a stone maker to build some of the wall panels.

But Evergreen Cemetery says it never approved the project because the group's plans for the wall were unfeasible.

"They were much, much too large for the area, they could not be safely installed in that area," cemetery spokesperson Ron Haulman said.

The cemetery has now given the go-ahead for another memorial marker. That group also includes victims' families, as well as Jim Jones' son.

Jim Jones Jr. says his group wants to get it done for the next anniversary this fall.

"It's embarrassing...that 32 years later we do not have a place that memorializes the 918 names," Jones Jr. said.

But that group's memorial will just display the names of the victims. Jim Jones' name will be included.

That angers Norwood and her group.

"It's like going to the Jewish community and telling them to put Adolph Hitler's name on the Holocaust memorial," Norwood said.

Jones Jr. disagrees.

"If you leave Jim Jones' name off, you give him more power and more authority, so you put him, his name, as everyone else as a person who died Nov.18," he said.

Jones Jr. says his group has raised all the money that is needed to erect the memorial.

Jones Jr. says his father is not buried at Evergreen Cemetery. His body was cremated and scattered over the ocean.


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