If you’re not familiar with the Peoples Temple church in Jonestown, Guyana, you may have at least heard of its leader, Reverend Jim Jones. And you almost certainly know the phrase explaining how the 900-some members committed mass suicide: They literally “drank the Kool-Aid” (or at least a powdered drink laced with cyanide).
75% of those victims were African-American, a fact that often gets under-reported in accounts of the tragedy. Author Sikivu Hutchinson — who also wrote Moral Combat and Godless Americana — has just written a novel about three (fictional) women and their paths to the church as a way to describe the lives of the victims. It’s called White Nights, Black Paradise (Infidel Books, 2015):
White Nights, Black Paradise is a riveting story of complicity and resistance; loyalty and betrayal; black struggle and black sacrifice. It locates Peoples Temple and Jonestown in the shadow of the civil rights movement, Black Power, Second Wave feminism and the Great Migration. Recapturing black women’s voices, White Nights, Black Paradise explores their elusive quest for social justice, home and utopia. In so doing, the novel provides a complex window onto the epic flameout of a movement that was not only an indictment of religious faith but of American democracy.
Sounds like a fascinating novel. It’s available online beginning today, just two days before the 37th anniversary of the massacre. You can also read a lengthier interview with Hutchinson at Religion Dispatches.