Watch CBS News

Jonestown survivors in Oakland mark 45th anniversary of tragedy

Survivors in Oakland mark 45th anniversary of Jonestown massacre
Survivors in Oakland mark 45th anniversary of Jonestown massacre 02:57

OAKLAND --  Nearly a thousand people died in Jonestown, Guyana on Nov. 18, 1978. Many of the victims were from the Bay Area. There were two remembrance events held at Evergreen Cemetery in Oakland Saturday on the 45th anniversary of the horrifying tragedy.

Retired San Francisco police captain Yulanda Williams attended both events. She is a survivor and a former member of the Peoples Temple.

She, her husband and their young child followed cult leader Jim Jones to Jonestown to create what they thought would be a socialist paradise.

"It was truly an active concentration camp and we were guarded 24/7 by armed security officers," Williams recalled.

She convinced Jones to let her family leave Jonestown about a year before the massacre. Her case was an exception. She said most people were not allowed to leave.

"They were innocent. They were victims. They did not willingly die. They did not willingly take the poison. This was a massacre," Williams said.

Jynona Norwood said she lost 27 family members, including her mother and her two-month-old cousin, the youngest victim in the massacre.

"We lost generations. We lost babies. We lost seniors," Norwood said.

She says Jones was a mass murderer. She, Williams and some survivors are still upset that Jones' name was engraved along with other victims on memorial plaques at Evergreen Cemetery. Many of the victims are buried there.

"You've got to be in denial and delusional to insult us and want us to honor Jim Jones," Norwood said.

"It's ludicious. It's insensitive," Williams agreed.

Other survivors and family members said having Jones' name on the memorial plaque doesn't change the fact that Jones was a sick and evil person.

"Whoever died that day, their names are in alphabetical order on those plaques as a point of history. You can't change history as much as you want. We can erase all the evil people's names out of the book if you want to, it doesn't change history," said survivor John Cobb.

Cobb said he wanted to remember all the victims who died 45 years ago and not let them be forgotten.

As the fight to remove Jones' name continues, both sides agree people should learn from the tragedy.

"Nothing is going to be given to you freely. There is always a cost. And whenever someone tries to take your identity from you and tell you how you should think and who you should be, that should be one of the warning signs," Williams said.

Some survivors and family members say they forgave Jones. They said they didn't want to live with hate and forgiveness was their way to heal from the pain and suffering.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.