Wall to remember 276 children who died in Jonestown, week of November 15-21, 2007

The Willmington Journal/November 19, 2007

Washington -- Dr. Maya Angelou; California Reps. Barbara Lee and Maxine Waters; California Sen. Dianne Feinstein; San Francisco and Oakland Mayors Gavin Newsom and Jerry Brown and comedian Dick Gregory are among the celebrities who are lending their support to the construction of the Cherishing the Children Jonestown Memorial Wall to commemorate the lives of the 276 innocent children who lost their lives in Guyana.

Ceremonies to commemorate the precious lives lost and to celebrate the official construction launch of the long-awaited wall in their memory will take place on November 17 and 18 in Oakland.

Nov. 18 marks the 29th anniversary of the Jonestown massacre, among the nation's most tragic mass deaths in American history. More than 900 people, 276 children, 40 infants, mostly African-Americans, who were parishioners of cult leader Jim Jones, were murdered in the jungles of Guyana located on the northeastern tip of South America.

Commemoration events will include a press conference on the morning of November 17 with San Francisco NAACP President Dr. Amos Brown, Rev. Eugene Lumpkin, Dr. Jynona Norwood, the executive director of The Cherishing the Children Jonestown Memorial Wall project along with other leaders. On November 18, at 11 a.m., a special tribute will be held where the names of the children who died in Jonestown will be read and 276 lights will be lit to commemorate their short lives. The theme of this year's event is "Honoring our Children: A Gift From Heaven."

Each name of a child represents a painful link to a grieving mother, father, sister or brother, someone who can only wonder what might have been had the tragedy of Jonestown never occurred. Making that observation, Dr. Norwood said, "Children are our future".

We expect them to grow to adults, but the children who died in Jonestown never grew up to fulfill their God-given destiny. Which one would have been a civil rights leader, a freedom fighter, a teacher, a preacher, a great scientist, doctor, or mayor?"

Commenting on the progress of the memorial, Norwood said, "The survivors and surviving families of Jonestown have finally raised enough money to begin construction The monument will be placed in the Evergreen Cemetery in Oakland where 406 bodies mostly children, lay in a mass grave. Forty three-and-a-half foot caskets of infants lay at Evergreen and it is in the spirit of the children that we say never forget, never again."

Norwood said, "Our wall is in the spirit of others whose lives were lost due to hate or ignorance, such as in the Jewish Holocaust, the African slave trade, the Columbine shootings, the Vietnam War, 9/11 and most recently the tragedy at Virginia Tech. This memorial wall will honor the children and others, who were victimized by Jim Jones, including Congressman Leo Ryan and the UPI news crew. We will donate a percentage of the funds to help educate any child that wants to attend college or a technical school. Our focus is for the future."

As necessary as it is for Norwood and the survivors to look forward, Jonestown, is a tragedy that has never stopped hurting since November 18, 1978, the day it happened. Norwood lost 27 of her closest relatives, including her beloved mother in Jonestown. Jones himself offered Norwood, an aspiring evangelist at the time, a chance to work with him in California as the assistant youth pastor of his growing congregation and then go to Jonestown to help build a land Jones called Paradise. Norwood refused and eventually kidnapped her son and went into hiding to keep him away from Jones' lieutenants who insisted that her son and all of the children go to Jonestown.

Dr. Amos Brown, pastor of the Third Street Baptist Church of San Francisco, painted a picture of how the deception could have happened.

"In the years leading up to the exodus of Jones' followers, Dr. King had been assassinated; a spirit of rebellion, distrust of government and hate had been unleashed. This created a spiritual and social void, which Jones seemed to fill by deceiving the community with promises of education and employment programs. He spoke out against racism and he seemed sincere."

Brown, who was one of the few leaders to confront and expose Jones as a charlatan said, "This memorial should be a reminder that everyone who comes claiming that they have an answer to humankind's problem should be questioned and engaged in dialogue.

Jones was affirmed because he quoted Dr. King and talked about capitalism.

Unfortunately this could happen again, wherever there is a vacuum of rational balanced leadership, it makes it easy for a Jim Jones to emerge. We must be vigilant to ensure that our communities and churches are driven by principal and rational thought and compassionate activity that does not enslave a person to an authority figure."

Jonestown was supposed to be an oasis from racism, sexism and discrimination. But things soon turned sour. In Guyana, no dissent was tolerated, there were frequent beatings, and Jim Jones' paranoid propaganda rang through loud speakers' morning, noon, and night. Parents were not allowed to speak or allowed to see their children.

When U.S. Rep. Leo Ryan and several aids flew to Jonestown to investigate allegations of the abuse, the congressman and several members of his groups were ambushed and killed on their return to the airport. Later that evening Jim Jones assembled his congregation together, with his armed guards by his side; and ordered them to drink a fruit punch laced with cyanide. Many people were shot trying to escape and others were injected with the poison against their will.

Norwood was scheduled to go to Jonestown with Congressman Leo Ryan to get her family out but missed the flight by one day. Norwood says that by keeping this tragedy alive through the erection of the Cherishing the Children Memorial Wall, she hopes to help give children first priority and a sacred place in the center of the lives of our nation, community and families.

"Our children continue to live in a child unfriendly world," she says. In the USA every 36 seconds a child is abused or neglected, according to the Children's Defense Fund. Education continues to be the most potent medication and while the erection of the Wall may not be a cure, it stands as a visual reminder that "those who do not remember the past, are condemned to repeat it."

Former Mayor Jerry Brown says the memorial wall will also be an important reminder to future generations.

"It is critical that such tragedies are not repeated," Brown says.

Angelou will write a dedication to be inscribed on the architecture.

Three decades since the tragedy, many say the wall is timely.

"The Guyana Memorial Wall Project is long overdue," says comedian Dick Gregory. "Jonestown is one of the greatest tragedies of modern times that led the way before other catastrophic events. Jonestown was the first major tragedy that people had in their living rooms. The fact that everybody watched it in their living rooms is the reason why America needs healing. The Wall represents our healing."

Comedian Dick Gregory "I support this project. The Guyana Memorial Wall Project is long overdue. Jonestown is one of the greatest tragedies of modern times that led the way before other catastrophic events. Jonestown was the first major tragedy that people had in their living rooms. The fact that everybody watched it in their living rooms is the reason why America needs healing. The Wall represents our healing."

To see more documents/articles regarding this group/organization/subject click here.