1931–78, American religious leader, b. Lynn, Indiana. An influential Indianapolis preacher from the 1950s and onetime head of the city's Human Rights Commission, Jones formed the racially integrated People's Temple (1955), which he eventually moved to Ukiah, Calif. (1967), and then San Francisco (1971). In 1976 he was appointed head of the San Francisco Housing Authority, but the following year, after he became the subject of criminal investigations, particularly regarding alleged diversion of church donations to his personal use, Jones and about 1,000 followers relocated to a commune (Jonestown) that he established in Guyana. In Nov., 1978, U.S. Congressman Leo J. Ryan and four others were killed by cult members as they were leaving after an investigatory visit. The following day, Jones orchestrated the mass suicide of 912 followers, who were compelled to drink cyanide-laced punch. Jones died the same day of a bullet wound to the head.
See studies by K. Levi, ed. (1982), J. M. Weightman (1984), D. Chidester (1988), and J. Scheeres (2011).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
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