Jonestown memorial debate stirs anger

The Examiner, San Francisco/March 1, 2011

A battle has erupted on how to memorialize the more than 900 people who died in the mass suicide ordered by the late Rev. Jim Jones, whose Peoples Temple was headquartered in The City before it moved to Guyana to establish a utopian town.

At the heart of this fight is whether Jones' name should be included on a memorial to the tragedy.

Two separate groups have proposed memorials at Evergreen Cemetery in East Oakland, where more than 400 unidentified and unclaimed victims are buried.

The Rev. Jynona Norwood said adding Jones' name on a memorial to the victims of the horrific Jonestown massacre of 1978 would be similar to engraving Adolf Hitler's name onto the Holocaust Memorial.

"Go tell Congressman Giffords [and other victims] that got shot by Jared Loughner to forgive Jared and to honor him," she said. "It's an insult. It's not right."

Norwood, a San Francisco resident who is senior pastor of an Inglewood parish, has spent decades trying to erect a 36-foot-long stone wall at the Oakland cemetery with the names of the victims. Norwood lost 27 family members in the tragedy, including her mother. Her effort to erect the memorial wall has been stifled by funding issues.

She also said a separate group of ex-Peoples Temple members that includes Jim Jones Jr., the temple leader's adopted son, is trying to derail the memorial wall.

That group became impatient with Norwood's efforts, telling the Associated Press in November that it was time to move forward with a cheaper, alternative monument — four large stone slabs that would lay flat on the gravesite. The planners of the alternative monument want to add Jim Jones' name to the memorial.

On Monday, Norwood held a news conference at the gravesite calling for the cemetery to build a memorial that excludes Jones' name.

Jim Jones Jr., now a medical devices salesman who lives in San Francisco and is married with three sons, could not be reached for this report Monday.

On Nov. 18, which marked the 32nd anniversary of the Jonestown massacre, Jones told the Associated Press he wants an all-inclusive monument, adding that his father was a victim of his own madness.

Norwood has raised about $31,000 of the $100,000 she said is needed to install her proposed memorial. She said there is a plan to reduce the size of the memorial wall, cutting the cost in half.

However, Evergreen Cemetery director Ronald Haulman told the Associated Press that Norwood's idea would require more than $200,000 since the memorial wall was poorly suited for the gravesite, which is on a slope. It would require foundation works and likely the moving of some caskets, he said.

The alternative memorial costs between $15,000 and $20,000. The money has been paid and the memorial should be in place this year, Haulman said in November.

Norwood said she is considering a lawsuit against Evergreen Cemetery.

"We didn't even know Evergreen was putting the [alternative] memorial up until it was on the news," Norwood said.

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