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Jim Jones Moves His Church to California

Jones became a hit at Pentecostal gatherings and at other churches, outshining other healers with his miracles, and he built for himself a reputation in Indiana Pentecostal circles. He left Somerset Methodist Church and started his own church in a run-down building that he rented. In 1956 he transferred his church to a better building, and he began calling his efforts a "movement," and his church he called the "People's Temple."

Jim Jones was a rarity in Indiana in the mid-fifties: an emotional-style white preacher who preached integration and equality. Without financial backing by a wealthy denomination, Jones had to struggle to build a congregation. He established a soup kitchen, said to amount to 2,800 meals a month. He advocated giving shelter to the needy and adopting children, and he and his wife adopted a black child and a Korean orphan in addition to giving birth to a boy.

The Cold War was intense in the mid-fifties, and Jones spoke of fighting Communism with Communalism. He supported communalism by referring to a biblical passage about people selling their possessions.

Jones' good works in Indianapolis and his belief in civil rights won for him an appointment as head of the Indianapolis Human Rights Commission – those involved in making the appointment unaware of Jones' spiritual healings. In his new position, Jones helped integrate a theater and some eating places in downtown Indianapolis, and he became the target of the wrath of some downtown businessmen who complained that they wanted the right to choose their clientele. By 1961, Jones was the target of more conservative discontent. He told a local newspaper of hate letters and of telephone threats that he had been receiving. He feared being murdered for his views on race. Someone who had seen his wife on the street with her children had spat at her feet and had called her a "nigger lover."

Jones and his assistants at the People's Temple also feared nuclear war. Jones claimed to have had a vision of a nuclear attack. The Midwest, they believed, was too dangerous. Jones and his staff wanted to move their church elsewhere. Jones journeyed to Hawaii, then to Brazil where he stayed two years, supporting himself by teaching English, while his assistants, including some subordinate preachers, were maintaining his church in Indiana.

He returned to Indiana in December 1963, and in 1965 he and about 140 of his followers migrated to California, near the town of Ukiah in Mendocino County, a rural area not far from the town of Eureka. It had been declared by Esquire Magazine as the safest area should there be a nuclear attack. note41  Unlike the Midwest, it was upwind from all the likely targets of missiles with nuclear warheads.

The so-called hippie movement and their migration from San Francisco to Mendocino had not yet begun, which made Jones' settling there easier. With a degree in education he was able to find a part-time job teaching, and his wife Marceline took a job as a social worker at Mendocino State hospital.


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