Jim Jones and nearly all of his inner circle of leaders were white, but much of his cult was black. Writer Jamilah King has a family connection to the tragedy, and explores its history giving community and assistance to black Americans who had nowhere else to go:
The vast majority of … popular accounts center predominately on Jones, who was white, and the perspectives of white survivors. Each anniversary of the massacre, though, brings a more sober look at how race functioned within the church, like Sikivu Hutchinson’s 2015 novel White Nights, Black Paradise. More than 90 percent of Peoples Temple members were African American. Jones even modeled the cadences and substance of his preaching on those of a black spiritual leader named Father Divine, a sort of T.D. Jakes of the early 20th century. Of the roughly 1,000 Peoples Temple members who moved to Guyana before its tragic end there, 70 percent were black and almost half were black women. A number of those were black women over the age of 61; the burgeoning community relied in part on the $36,000 per month in Social Security benefits that these women brought in….
The Jonestown mass suicide was “the largest single loss of American civilian life outside of 9/11.”