November 19, 1988, The Indianapolis Recorder, A day of horror; Could it happen again: 912 dead at Jonestown, by Hedy Y. Reeves and Eunice Trotter,
Jim Jones called it an act of revolutionary suicide for 912 People's Temple members---most of them African-American and many of them from Indianapolis---to kill themselves in the jungles of Guyana, South America 10 years ago this week.
Hyacinth Thrash called it an act of God that she slept through the mass deaths and survived to tell the world that it could happen again.
When she awoke the morning after, she found that hundreds had drank a cyanide-laced drink or were shot. Bodies of men, women and children, bloated from the searing heat, were stacked one on the other. That day, Nov. 18, 1978, would go down in history with Jones compared to Adolph Hitler.
Now in an Indianapolis nursing home, 86-year-old Mrs. Thrash reflected back on those years of her life when she was a member of People's Temple, which was founded in Indianapolis in the 1950s.
"You heard about how he used to help black people. He was a good man," she told The Indianapolis Recorder. And according to many, Jones did start out doing good by providing healthcare treatment and feeding programs for the poor.
African-American people were so convinced that Jones was a "white soul brother" who fought for African-Americans, they bestowed upon him numerous awards and accolades. African-American publishers gave htm the National Newspaper Publishers Association's first Freedom of the Press Award. In 1961, Jones was named executive director of the Indianapolis Human Rights Commission. He was appointed by then-Mayor Charles Boswell. on the recommendations of Superior Court Judge Mercer Mance, who chaired the commission's personnel committee.
"White folks hated him," said Mrs. Thrash, remembering the times when Jones took his congregation to white churches to integrate them. It was an era when racial tensions in Indianapolis ran high. Jones attempted to break down racial barriers and segregation. "He wanted to do something big."
Mrs. Thrash remembers one incident when Jones was a patient at Methodist Hospital and refused to remain on an all-white ward. He went to the hospital's basement and climbed into a bed on the ward for "colored" people, desegregating that ward.
Jones went to a restaurant with an African-American man. The: restaurant refused to serve Jones' colleague, so they ate their meals on the sidewalk, outside of the restaurant.
It was this seemingly deep commitment to winning rights for African-Americans in Indianapolis that attracted Hyacinth Thrash and her sister, Zipporah Edwards, to his fold.
Mrs. Thrash had been a member of another church whose minister died. A new minister was hired. But the new minister made so many demands on the congregation that Mrs. Thrash left the church. "That man wanted too much," she said.
Her sister had already joined People's Temple and encouraged her
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to do the same. It wasn't hard, considering that Mrs. Thrash and her sister were raised in Alabama, remembering the stories of African- American people being despised and lynched.
Mrs. Thrash believed Jones had "power," not only to stop racism, but also to heal the sick and see things of the future. Jones predicted that there would be a race war and a nuclear holocaust.
It was this kind of talk that convinced Mrs. Thrash, who moved to Redwood Valley in Ukiah, Calif., with the church in 1965, to go on to Guyana.
"I thought it was going to be like a retirement home. You know. One big happy family." But it was more like a prison, with drugged guards carrying automatic weapons, dense jungles all around as far as you could see, hard labor and a crazed Jones, who by then was called "Dad."
Jones' first church was all-white, located on" the city's Southside. He later became ordained by the Disciples of Christ Church, locating his churches first at 15th and New Jersey and later to 10th and Delaware. He was known as a "niggerlover." With some prodding from Jones' associate ministers, about 145 Indianapolis residents left the city, escaping what he told them was an impending racial holocaust here. While all names of those who left with him may never be known, some of the families included the Archie Ijames family; Opal Worley and her daughters, Faith and Theresa; the Cordells, Jack Beam, the Wades, the Beikmans, the Addisons, Vicky Moore, Mickie Johnson, the Cobb family, Ann McCoy; Deanna Wilkerson Moten, Esther Mueller, Dorath Hindman and the Touchette family.
It is believed that 37 Hoosiers died and eight survived the killings and mass suicides in Guyana, triggered when Congressman Leo Ryan attempted to leave the settlement called Jonestown by locals after a fact-finding mission with People's Temple defectors.
Hundreds of persons remain unidentified, buried in a mass grave, it is believed Jones was shot in the head, although rumors persisted (even today) that Jones is alive, just waiting to strike back at his enemies.
After arriving in Guyana, Mrs. Thrash found the conditions "were terrible. That sun burned you up. We had plenty to eat. We planted two crops, but he sold some down the river...till the government stopped him."
"By then he had quit his wife and taken on one of his nurses. Said we were going to Russia..."
Mrs. Thrash said people were afraid to talk to one another, for fear that someone would tell Jones of something one had said.
"There were plenty of punishments, too. If anyone crossed Jim, they had to pay. One time a colored woman had talked about Jim to another lady and of course this lady went back and told him about it.
"Well, he made that woman strip nude and walk up and down the pavilion where he had meetings, in front of some 900 people. She was 59 or 60 years old."
Acting as enforcers were "doped up guards," said Mrs. Thrash.
"They were like mad dogs," protecting Jones anytime be was among his followers. They also guarded the settlement, keeping locals out and members in.
On the day Congressman Ryan arrived to investigate, Mrs. Thrash said she stayed in her cottage. I never did see Ryan. My sister went, but I didn't."
When some decided to leave the settlement with Jones, he became enraged. That was when he decided that the group would actually commit suicide, after having practiced suicide drills he called "White Nights" on several other occasions.
Guards were ordered to round up members. Mothers were ordered to give the fatal cyanide mixture to their babies. Those who refused were forced at gunpoint. Many were shot. Tapes confiscated by the government recorded Jones begging women not to alarm their babies and encouraging members to kiss and hug each other good-bye. There were sounds of screaming and crying.
"And I slept through the whole thing. Fifteen people died on both sides of my cottage. My door was wide open and I was asleep and slept through it all. God only knows why the guards didn't check my cottage," said Mrs. Thrash.
"After I woke up about 6 a.m. that fateful Sunday morning to get my breakfast, I didn't hear anyone, so I though, "Oh-oh. Jim must have kept the people out all night again," said Mrs. Thrash.
"Then I started seeing all the bloated and deformed dead bodies. It was a horrible sight, to see the people I knew dead," she says. I didn't want to look at all the dead babies and children, who, just the other day were laughing and playing with each other. I saw my sister laying along side another dead person...this made me angry and has filled my heart with bitterness and hatred."
Asked if it could happen again, Mrs. Thrash responded quickly that it could. "I think this kind of thing could happen again because cults are still present and somebody is always going to go with them," she said.
Her advice to African-Americans is to "see themselves as others see them...they ought to see themselves real well. They need getup and energy...If they know what I know, they'd be so close to the Lord it wouldn't be funny."