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Karenga, Maulana 1941—

Maulana Karenga 1941

Writer, educator, proponent of black culturalism

Supported Malcolm X

Instituted a Cultural Holiday

Targeted by the FBI

Voice of Reason During L.A. Riots

Selected writings

Sources

Known as the man who brought the cultural holiday of Kwanzaa to the United States in 1966, Maulana Karenga has played a key role in programs that have defined black identity and helped blacks connect themselves to their cultural roots. His identities since the mid-1960s have run the gamut from black power revolutionary and supporter of Malcolm X to mediator with whites in times of racial strife. Throughout, Karenga has stressed the importance of culture to blacks as a means of strengthening solidarity and overcoming oppression.

Karenga has played a great role in providing positive symbols to blacks through cultural reaffirmation. In speaking of his movement in Emerge, he said, As cultural nationalists, we believe that you must rescue and reconstruct African history and culture to revitalize African culture today in America. Karenga has acknowledged his debt to black thinkers of the past in shaping his view. Veronica Chambers wrote in Essence that Karengas intellectual voice is born of a mixed palette of teachings, from W. E. B. DuBois to Anna Julia Cooper, a legendary black nineteenth-century feminist who attended the Sorbonne while in her sixties and received a Ph.D. The holder of two Ph.D.s of his own, Karenga pays particular homage to pathbreaking blacks such as DuBois, Cooper, Fannie Lou Hamer, Malcolm X, Mary McLeod Bethune, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Frederick Douglass.

The son of a Baptist minister, Karenga was born on a poultry farm in Maryland. He moved to Los Angeles in the late 1950s to attend Los Angeles City College, and while there became the first black ever elected president of the student body. He earned his masters degree in political science and African studies at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) before embracing the Black Power movement.

Supported Malcolm X

After some initial interest in becoming a Black Muslim, Karenga became disenchanted with the religion and became a supporter of Malcolm X, although he did not agree with all of the black leaders teachings. Karenga thought that violence should be used only as a self-defense measure, unlike radical Black Power advocates

At a Glance

Bom Ronald McKinley Everett, July 14, 1941, in Parsonsburg, MD; married, 1967, wifes name Tiamoya. Education; Los Angeles City College, B.A.; University of California, M.A. and Ph.D.

Formed US (a group promoting black cultural nationalism based on African heritage), 1965; collaborator, with Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., on major black-power conferences, Washington, DC, 1966; Ujima Housing Projects/Mafundi Institute, Los Angeles, CA, coplanner; established cultural holiday Kwanzaa in United States, 1966; convicted of assault and incarcerated at San Luis Obispo Prison, CA, 197175; switched ideological focus to Marxism, 1975; California State University at Long Beach, associate professor and chairperson of black studies department, c. 1991. Cofounder, Brotherhood Crusade; has served as chairperson of the Presidents Task Force on Multicultural Education and Campus Diversity, California State University at Long Beach and director, African-American Cultural Center, Los Angeles.

Addresses: Office California State University, Department of Black Studies, Long Beach, CA.

who supported more aggressive measures against the white establishment. In one of his first efforts to unify blacks in a positive rather than destructive manner, he helped establish the Black Congress among residents of Los Angeles Watts district that helped restore the community after the 1965 race riots.

In the mid-1960s Everett started the group known as US (meant as a counterpoint to them) that he created as a social and culture change organization, according to The Black 100. It was at this time that he adopted the name Maulana KarengaMaulana is Swahili for master-teacher. All members of US were required to take on Afro-Swahili surnames, learn Swahili, shave their heads, and wear African-style attire. Embracing the seven principles of the Nguzo Saba, a black value system that was to be a code of living for blacks, was a central element of US. The principles consisted of Umjoya (unity), Kujichagulia (self-determination), Ujima (collective work and responsibility), Ujamaa (cooperative economics), Nia (purpose), Kuumba (creativity), and Imani (faith). The goal of this value system was to promote a national liberation of African Americans and US soon attracted a large following among blacks on the West Coast.

With US, Karenga was instrumental in building independent schools, black-studies departments, and black-student unions. As he gained status in the Black Power movement, he proceeded to organize a series of gatherings to provide blacks with a platform for social change. Working with other black leaders, he set up major Black Power conferences in Washington, DC, Philadelphia, and Newark, New Jersey, where he was instrumental in triggering development of an ideological framework for black politics in the years to come. Central to Karengas efforts was the espousal of cultural nationalism to instill racial pride and confidence among American blacks.

Instituted a Cultural Holiday

Among the blacks who took leadership roles in the black cultural movement of the 1960s were LeRoi Jones (who became Amiri Baraka), Sonia Sanchez, Addison Gayle, Jr., Larry Neal, and Haki Madhubuti (formerly Don L. Lee). During this period Karenga worked alongside such people, founding the Brotherhood Crusade, as well as housing projects, community health centers, and other associations to aid blacks. From the beginning, we were into institutional building for both the local and national community, he claimed in Essence. Karenga made it clear, however, that blacks had a right to act up if the system did not change. Unless America awakens to the fact that she must contend with us as an enemy or bargain with us as citizens, it will be to her serious disadvantage, he was quoted as saying in Newsweek in 1966.

One year after the creation of US, Karenga introduced a lasting source of black unity by introducing Kwanzaa to African Americans. Kwanzaa, which is Swahili for first fruits, is a holiday based on African agricultural rites and communal activities that urges blacks to look back to their cultural roots as a source of celebration. On each of the seven days of Kwanzaafrom December 26 through January 1a principle of the Nguzo Saba is acknowledged.

Although it coincides with the Christmas season, the holiday has no religious aspects and therefore allows people from all countries and backgrounds to join in without conflicts. A Pan-Africanist, Karengas support of Kwanzaa was an offshoot of his belief that blacks should consider themselves one people, regardless of their country. Kwanzaa was created to reaffirm our culture and the bonds between us as a people, he told Essence. After initially being observed by a few hundred people, Kwanzaa celebrations have spread well beyond the borders of the United States in ensuing years.

Targeted by the FBI

Throughout the mid-1960s, Karengas voice was clearly heard in speeches across the nation about the importance of racial pride. His reputation soared due to his role in helping the Los Angeles police limit black rioting after Martin Luther King, Jr.s assassination in 1968. Karengas mediating skills made him in demand for meetings with political leaders that included then-California governor Ronald Reagan, ex-Los Angeles mayor Sam Yorty, Senator Hubert Humphrey, and Ford Foundation head McGeorge Bundy. At the same time he was working with these leaders, Karengas continued outspokenness also put him under surveillance by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

A number of factors isolated Karenga within the Black Power movement. While some African Americans did not care for his overpowering manner, others disagreed with his philosophy for dealing with the problems of blacks; more extremist blacks spoke out against his dealing with whites. The cultural nationalists could not bridge the gap between blacks who wanted to overthrow the system and those who were willing to promote change through the normal political process.

Karengas status was eroded considerably after the killing of Black Panther members John Huggins and Alprentice Bunchy Carter by US gunmen in 1969. It was also felt by many that the so-called cultural movement promoted by Karenga and Baraka compromised the rights of women. Karengas male chauvinism came to the fore in 1971, when he was arrested and convicted of assaulting a female US member. After he was sent to prison to serve time for his offense, the US organization began to dissolve and was officially ended in 1974.

In prison, Karenga actively complained that his sentence was more harsh than for others convicted of a similar offense and noted that his repeated parole recommendations were ignored. During his incarceration he maintained a rigorous schedule of activity and received a steady flow of visitors. He would often endure 19-hour work days consisting of work in the prison library, running a humanist discussion group, and conducting research. His studies resulted in articles published in Black Scholar magazine that encompassed subjects ranging from feminism to Pan-Africanism.

After three years, Karenga won his freedom due to the efforts of various black elected officials in California. After his release he admitted that US had made mistakes that weakened the movement and compromised its ability to change appropriately with the times. He also revealed an ideological reawakening by announcing his adherence to Marxist principles of class struggle. As Thomas L. Blair said in Retreat to the Ghetto, In Karengas new view, Black Nationalism is reactionary because in the pursuit of an elusive ideal of unity it makes class contradictions among blacks. Baraka also made the shift in philosophy, thus ending the militant cultural revolution of blacks started in the 1960s.

In the years that followed, Karenga would continue to rethink his position on black identity and once again embrace the principles of black culturalism. Prominent in his thoughts was the need for blacks to work together toward common goals and, especially for Africans to transcend borders of country and tribe. In the final analysis shared social wealth and work are key to African economic development, he was quoted as saying in The Black 100.

Karengas Marxist leanings continued to show in his negative opinion of black capitalism, which he felt subverted the black cause and resulted in blacks losing touch with their true identity. To further press the cause of black unity, Karenga and his wife Tiamoya increased their involvement with the Kwanzaa holiday over the years. By having no elements of elitism, exclusivity, or intellectualism, Kwanzaa is fully accessible to the masses and cannot be claimed as the special province of any one group, according to Karenga.

Voice of Reason During L.A. Riots

In addition to serving as professor and chairperson of the Department of Black Studies at California State University at Long Beach in the 1990s, Karenga became chairperson of the Presidents Task Force on Multicultural Education and Campus Diversity at the school. He also was appointed director of the African American Cultural Center in Los Angeles. After the 1992 riots in Los Angeles that followed the beating of Rodney King by police, Karenga once again became a voice of healing in the aftermath.

Karenga sponsored workshops and lectures to help close the racial wounds resulting from the event. Karenga remained reasonable and called for cool heads while the Rodney King trial was underway and blacks were threatening retribution if the jury gave the police a light sentence. L.A. can be a model in a positive way or a negative way, he was quoted as saying in Newsweek while the trial was underway.

The Kwanzaa holiday remains Karengas most important legacy to the black cause. His influence is demonstrated by the fact that by the 1990s Kwanzaa was celebrated by more than 18 million blacks in the United States, Canada, the Caribbean, Europe, and Africa. He and his wife have presided over hundreds of Kwanzaas all over the world. As Cultural Nationalists, we believe that you must rescue and reconstruct African history and culture to revitalize African culture today in America, he said in Emerge. Kwanzaa became a way of doing just that. I wanted to stress the need for reorientation of values, to borrow the collective life-affirming ones from our past and use them to enrich our present.

Selected writings

The African American Holiday of Kwanzaa: A Celebration of Family, Community and Culture, University of Sankore Press, 1988.

Introduction to Black Studies, Kawaida Publications, 1982.

(Editor with Jacob H. Carruthers), Kemet and the African Worldview: Research, Rescue and Restoration, University of Sankore Press, 1986.

Kwanzaa: Origin, Concepts, Practice, Kawaida Publications, 1977.

Selections From the Husia: Sacred Wisdom of Ancient Egypt, University of Sankore Press, 1984.

Author of numerous articles published in Black Scholar.

Sources

Books

Blair, Thomas L., Retreat to the Ghetto, The End of a Dream, Hill & Wang, 1977.

The Eyes on the Prize Civil Rights Reader, Penguin, 1991.

Salley, Columbus, The Black 100, Citadel Press, 1993.

Van Deburg, William L., New Day in Babylon, The Black Power Movement and American Culture 19651975, University of Chicago Press, 1992.

Periodicals

Black Enterprise, December 1991, p. 22; December 1993, p. 107.

Detroit Free Press Magazine, December 4, 1994, p. 6.

Ebony, September 1975, p. 170.

Essence, December 1989, p. 50; December 1992, pp. 9698, 129.

Emerge, January 1992, pp. 1112.

Newsweek, August 22, 1966, pp. 2829; March 29, 1993, p. 30.

Ed Decker

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Karenga, Maulana

Maulana Karenga

1941—

Professor, social activist

Maulana Karenga is a scholar of African and African-American studies who is best known for creating the celebration of Kwanzaa in the mid-1960s. Karenga downplayed his personal role in launching the seven-day December festival that celebrates African history, community, and culture, but in 1998 he gave a lengthy interview to Henry Louis Gates of Harvard University, considered America's foremost scholar of African-American studies, for the PBS series Frontline. "I tell my classes each year that you're the only person I know who invented a holiday," Gates told Karenga. "And in our time, it's a very rare thing to do."

Adopted Swahili Name

Karenga was born Ronald McKinley Everett in Parsonsburg, Maryland, in 1941, and was one of fourteen children. His father was a Baptist minister, but the family's income also came from the chicken farm on which Karenga was raised. In 1958 Karenga moved to Southern California to enroll in a special program at Los Angeles City College for those who had not yet earned their high school diplomas. He went on to earn a bachelor's degree from the school while becoming the first African-American ever to be elected president of its student body. From there, Karenga entered the University of California's Los Angeles campus and graduated with a master's degree in political science and African studies. He also taught Swahili in night-school classes and adopted a new name in the pan-African tongue: "Maulana" meant "master teacher," and "Karenga" connoted "nationalist."

Karenga was working toward a doctorate in linguistics with a specialty in African languages when riots broke out in Watts, a predominantly black neighborhood in Los Angeles in August of 1965. His activism had already brought him into contact with Malcolm X, who had been gunned down at a Harlem event just six months earlier, and he was inspired by his meeting with the black Muslim leader to launch a similar initiative on the West Coast to help healed the frayed community. In the weeks after the riots in Watts, he created US, sometimes referred to as Organization US. Karenga's group took its name from the idea of "us" versus "them." Its members adopted African-style dress, wore shaved heads instead of Afros, and renamed themselves with Swahili-inspired monikers. "We name ourselves," Karenga explained to Thomas A. Johnson in the New York Times. "Only slaves and dogs are named by their masters." In that same 1966 article he spoke of the need to defend African-American communities like Watts, noting that earlier initiatives like "love, prayer, and picketing have not worked."

In Johnson's New York Times article, Karenga asserted that "we are making our own customs" and had formulated a set of beliefs that are "more functional than spiritual in working for the day-to-day good of black people." He devised a set of tenets around the concept of Nguzo Saba, or the Seven Principles of Blackness. These were Umoja, or unity; Kujichagulia, or self-determination; Ujima, or collective work and responsibility; Ujamaa, or cooperative economics; Nia, or purpose; Kuumba, or creativity; and Imani, or faith. With these principles in mind, Karenga and his fellow US members began establishing independent schools for youth, and encouraged the formation of black student unions on college campuses.

Established Kwanzaa Festival

Based on those ideas of Nguzo Saba, the first Kwanzaa celebration took place in Los Angeles in December of 1966 with Karenga's US friends and family members. The term "Kwanzaa" was taken from a Swahili term, matunda yakwanza, meaning "first fruit." Swahili is spoken widely throughout East Africa and is a blend of the sub-Saharan Bantu tongue and Arabic, and is reflective of the multicultural character of this part of the continent. Swahili was of particular interest to scholars of black nationalism because its widespread use did not reflect the hegemony of one particular African tribe or nation over another; even prior to European encroachment many parts of Africa had been scarred by internecine wars.

Matunda yakwanza, sometimes spelled matunda ya kwanza, may also mean "first harvest," and as a celebration of the earth's bounty and gratitude to nature for its benevolence Kwanzaa is not unlike celebrations found in nearly every other world culture. After refining its rituals, Karenga promulgated the seven-day ceremony, and it began to catch on with other African Americans. The mkeka, or straw mat, serves as the centerpiece of several symbolic items, and itself represents the foundation. Central is the kinara, or candleholder, which holds seven candles. The kinara is a symbol of the ancestral stalk from which all blacks—and humans—originated. The colors of the candles—three red, three green, and one black—were borrowed from the teachings of early twentieth-century black nationalist visionary Marcus Garvey, as Karenga explained in an interview with Aldore Collier in Ebony. "Black is for Black people, first. Red is for struggle, and green is for the future and the promise that comes from struggle." The future is represented by the muhindi, or ears of corn laid on the mat by the children of the household. On December 31, the sixth day, a feast is called for, and Imani, the next day, is one for "reassessment and recommitment," Karenga told Veronica Chambers in Essence. "We meditate on the meaning and mission of our lives and recommit ourselves to our people, our struggle, our culture, and to ever-higher levels of human life." Gifts were given as part of the celebration, but were meant to reflect African heritage and given to children to signify the work achieved in the past year in reaching their own goals.

Kwanzaa quickly took hold throughout African-American communities and mainstream publications including the New York Times began reporting on Kwanzaa festivities as early as 1971. In the first mention of Kwanzaa in that newspaper, a reporter witnessed schoolchildren in Harlem being instructed in the seven Nguzo Saba principles by a sixteen-year-old activist and ordained Pentecostal minister named Alfred Sharpton, who told reporter Charlayne Hunter that "as black people, we need to stress the educational, cultural and communal aspects of the holiday," which was often referred to as the "Black Christmas" in its early years. "Doing things this way," Sharpton continued, "gives us the feeling of unity that we need."

At a Glance …

Born Ronald McKinley Everett, on July 14, 1941, in Parsonsburg, MD; son of a Baptist minister; married Tiamoya, 1967; children: two sons, one daughter. Education: University of California—Los Angeles, BA, cum laude, political science, 1963, MA, 1964; U.S. International University, PhD, 1976; University of Southern California, PhD, 1994.

Career: Formed the black nationalist organization US, 1965; Ujima Housing Projects/ Mafundi Institute, Los Angeles, CA, co-planner; California State University at Long Beach, professor of black studies, c. 1991—, and chair of President's Task Force on Multicultural Education and Campus Diversity; also director, African-American Cultural Center, Los Angeles; member of executive council of the Million Man March/Day of Absence.

Awards: President's Award, African Heritage Studies Association, 1999; C.L.R. James Award, National Council for Black Studies, 2002; Paul Robeson-Zora Neale Hurston Award, National Council for Black Studies, 2003; Peace Education Award, California State University-Sacramento Center for African Peace and Conflict Resolution, 2004; Nguzo Saba Philosophical Award, Molefi Kete Asante and Haki Madhubuti, 2005. Honorary doctorate, University of Durban, Westville, South Africa, 1998.

Addresses: Office—California State University—Long Beach, Department of Africana Studies, 1250 Bellflower Blvd., Long Beach, CA 90840.

The New York Times article mentioned that the teenaged Sharpton was the founder of the National Youth Movement, an outgrowth of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference founded by Martin Luther King Jr. Sharpton's organization was founded to combat the growing scourge of illegal drugs in African-American communities, and was one of scores of similar groups active in urban communities at the time. The most famous among them was the Black Panther Party, which had early ties to Karenga's US organization in Los Angeles. The US group actually pre-dated the founding of the Black Panthers in Oakland, California, in 1966, but the Bay-area black-power advocates would go on to achieve a much higher profile in the mainstream media. Both were founded on many of the same principles, and as Karenga recalled in the interview with Gates on Frontline, the Panthers "borrowed a lot of techniques from our community alert patrol of following the police around, taking their names, giving legal defense and counsel to people who were harassed by the police, and actually checking the police."

Targeted by Federal Agents

Karenga was one of the most active academics among the leadership of the black consciousness movement during the late 1960s. He began working with Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., who represented Harlem in Congress, to organize the first National Conference on Black Power in 1966 in Washington, DC. Two more conferences followed, in Newark in 1967 and Philadelphia in 1968. Yet both Karenga's group and the Black Panthers were targeted by a special counterintelligence division within the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Documents released later revealed that the FBI actively attempted to destabilize both groups by instigating a gangland-style animosity.

In one notorious incident, Karenga was arrested on charges that he had subjected two female members of his group to torture after accusing them of trying to poison his food. One of the victims cut a deal with prosecutors to testify against him in exchange for the release of a pending charge against her for auto theft; the other woman had reportedly fled the country by the time the case went to trial in 1971. Karenga denied all charges, but was sentenced to one to ten years in prison on the torture charges. He entered California's San Luis Obispo Prison in September of 1971. He was released in 1975 thanks to the efforts of sympathetic state and local lawmakers. Later journalists who tried to track down the two women, whose names appeared in court testimony, were never able to locate either of them.

Karenga spent his time behind bars productively, working in the prison library and leading discussion groups. He also worked toward completing a doctorate in social ethics, and was granted a PhD from the University of Southern California in 1994. For much of his career he has taught at California State University at Long Beach, where he chairs the school's Department of Black Studies. In 1995 he was a member of the executive council for the Million Man March/Day of Absence and authored the event's mission statement.

In the decades since its inception, the Kwanzaa cultural festival has become a worldwide phenomenon. Some twenty million people celebrate it, and Karenga has since expanded the principles of Nguzo Saba to embrace a community of humankind, not just those of African descent. "I have been blessed to see my work flourish," he reflected in Ebony. "Many people in history—Marcus Garvey, Ida B. Wells, Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X—never lived to see their work flourish. I have seen people around the world embrace my philosophy and principles, involving themselves in a cultural institution that my organization and I created."

Selected writings

Books

Kwanzaa: Origin, Concepts, Practice, Kawaida Publications, 1977.

The African American Holiday of Kwanzaa: A Celebration of Family, Community & Culture, University of Sankore Press, 1988.

The Book of Coming Forth by Day: The Ethics of the Declarations of Innocence, University of Sankore Press, 1990.

(Editor) Reconstructing Kemetic Culture: Papers, Perspectives, Projects, University of Sankore Press, 1990.

Introduction to Black Studies, University of Sankore Press, 1993.

(Editor, with Haki R. Madhubuti) Million Man March/Day of Absence: A Commemorative Anthology, Third World Press/University of Sankore Press 1996.

Kwanzaa: A Celebration of Family, Community, and Culture, University of Sankore Press, 1998.

Maat, the Moral Ideal in Ancient Egypt: A Study in Classical African Ethics, Routledge, 2004.

(Editor, with Molefi Kete Asante) Handbook of Black Studies, Sage Publications, 2006.

Kawaida and Questions of Life and Struggle: African American, Pan-African, and Global Issues, University of Sankore Press, 2007.

The Message and Meaning of Kwanzaa: Bringing Good into the World: The Founder's Annual Statements 1994-2006, University of Sankore Press, 2007.

Sources

Periodicals

Black Collegian, February 1997, p. 160.

Ebony, January 1998, p. 116; December 2004, p. 38; December 2007, p. 146.

Essence, December 1992, p. 96.

Journal of Black Studies, November 1997, p. 157.

New York Times, May 27, 1966, p. 30; September 2, 1968, p. 13; January 24, 1969, p. 44; October 8, 1970, p. 35; December 24, 1971, p. 28; January 5, 1976, p. 22.

Online

Gates, Henry Louis, "Interview: Maulana Karenga," Frontline, PBS.org, http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/race/interviews/karenga.html (accessed October 26, 2008).

—Carol Brennan

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Maulana Karenga

Maulana Karenga

Maulana Karenga (born 1941) introduced the holiday of Kwanzaa to African Americans. Kwanzaa, derived from African agricultural rites and communal activities, urges blacks to look back to their cultural roots as a source of celebration.

Known as the man who brought the cultural holiday of Kwanzaa to the United States in 1966, Maulana Karenga has played a key role in programs that have defined black identity and helped blacks connect themselves to their cultural roots. His identities since the mid-1960s have run the gamut from black power revolutionary and supporter of Malcolm X to mediator with whites in times of racial strife. Throughout, Karenga has stressed the importance of culture to blacks as a means of strengthening solidarity and overcoming oppression.

Karenga has played a great role in providing positive symbols to blacks through cultural reaffirmation. In speaking of his movement in Emerge!, he said, "As cultural nationalists, we believe that you must rescue and reconstruct African history and culture to revitalize African culture today in America." Karenga has acknowledged his debt to black thinkers of the past in shaping his view. Veronica Chambers wrote in Essence that Karenga's "intellectual voice is born of a mixed palette of teachings, from W. E. B. DuBois to Anna Julia Cooper, a legendary Black nineteenth-century feminist who attended the Sorbonne while in her sixties and received a Ph.D." The holder of two Ph.D.s of his own, Karenga pays particular homage to path-breaking blacks such as DuBois, Cooper, Fannie Lou Hamer, Malcolm X, Mary McLeod Bethune, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Frederick Douglass.

Leadership Skills Revealed in College

The son of a Baptist minister, Karenga was born on a poultry farm in Maryland. He moved to Los Angeles in the late 1950s to attend Los Angeles City College, and while there became the first black ever elected president of the student body. He earned his masters' degree in political science and African studies at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) before embracing the black power movement.

After some initial interest in becoming a Black Muslim, Karenga became disenchanted with the religion and became a supporter of Malcolm X, although he did not agree with all of the black leader's teachings. Karenga thought that violence should be resorted to by blacks only as a self-defense measure, unlike radical black power advocates who supported more aggressive measures against the white establishment. In one of his first efforts to unify blacks in a positive rather than destructive manner, he helped establish the Black Congress among residents of Los Angeles' Watts district that helped restore the community after the 1965 race riots.

In the mid-1960s Everett started the group known as US (meant as a counterpoint to "them") that he "created as a social and culture change organization," according to The Black 100. It was at this time that he adopted the name Maulana Karenga—Maulana is Swahili for "master-teacher." All members of US were required to take on Afro-Swahili surnames, learn Swahili, shave their heads, and wear African-style attire. A central element of US was the embracing of the seven principles of the Nguzo Saba, a black value system that was to be a code of living for blacks. The principles consisted of Umjoya (unity), Kujichagulia (self-determination), Ujima (collective work and responsibility), Ujamaa (cooperative economics), Nia (purpose), Kuumba (creativity), and Imani (faith). The goal of this value system was to promote a national liberation of African Americans and US soon attracted a large following among blacks on the West Coast.

With US, Karenga was instrumental in building independent schools, black-studies departments, and black-student unions. As he gained status in the black power movement, he proceeded to organize a series of gatherings to provide blacks with a platform for social change. Working with other black leaders, he set up major black-power conferences in Washington DC, Philadelphia, and Newark, New Jersey, where he was instrumental in triggering development of an ideological framework for black politics in the years to come. Central to Karenga's efforts was the espousal of cultural nationalism to instill racial pride and confidence among American blacks.

Among the blacks who took leadership roles in the black cultural movement of the 1960s were LeRoi Jones (who became Amiri Baraka), Sonia Sanchez, Addison Gayle, Jr., Larry Neal, and Haki Madhubuti (formerly Don L. Lee). During this period Karenga worked alongside such people, founding the Brotherhood Crusade, as well as housing projects, community health centers, and other associations to aid blacks. "From the beginning, we were into institutional building for both the local and national community," he claimed in Essence. Karenga made it clear, however, that blacks had a right to act up if the system did not change. "Unless America awakens to the fact that she must contend with us as an enemy, or bargain with us as citizens, it will be to her serious disadvantage," he was quoted as saying in Newsweek in 1966.

Cultural Holiday Becomes Worldwide Phenomenon

One year after the creation of US, Karenga introduced a lasting source of black unity by introducing Kwanzaa to African Americans. Kwanzaa, which is Swahili for "first fruits," is a holiday based on African agricultural rites and communal activities that urges blacks to look back to their cultural roots as a source of celebration. On each of the seven days of Kwanzaa—from December 26 through January 1—a principle of the Nguzo Saba is acknowledged.

Although it coincides with the Christmas season, the holiday has no religious aspects and therefore allows people from all countries and backgrounds to join in without conflicts. A pan-Africanist, Karenga's support of Kwanzaa was an offshoot of his belief that blacks should consider themselves one people, regardless of their country. "Kwanzaa was created to reaffirm our culture and the bonds between us as a people," he told Essence. After initially being observed by a few hundred people, Kwanzaa celebrations have spread well beyond the borders of the United States in ensuing years.

Throughout the mid-1960s, Karenga's voice was clearly heard in speeches across the nation about the importance of racial pride. His reputation soared due to his role in helping the Los Angeles police limit black rioting after Martin Luther King, Jr.'s assassination in 1968. Karenga's mediating skills made him in demand for meetings with political leaders that included then-California Governor Ronald Reagan, ex-Los Angeles Mayor Sam Yorty, Senator Hubert Humphrey, and Ford Foundation head McGeorge Bundy. At the same time he was working with these leaders, Karenga's continued outspokenness also put him under surveillance by the FBI.

A number of factors isolated Karenga within the black-power movement. While some African Americans did not care for his overpowering manner, others disagreed with his philosophy for dealing with the problems of blacks; more extremist blacks spoke out against his dealing with whites. The cultural nationalists could not bridge the gap between blacks who wanted to overthrow the system and those who were willing to promote change through the normal political process.

Karenga's status was eroded considerably after the killing of Black Panther members John Huggins and Alprentice "Bunchy" Carter by US gunmen in 1969. It was also felt by many that the so-called cultural movement promoted by Karenga and Baraka compromised the rights of women. Karenga's male chauvinism came to the fore in 1971 when he was arrested and convicted of assaulting a female US member. After he was sent to prison to serve time for his offense, the US organization began to dissolve and was officially ended in 1974.

Ideological Shift During Imprisonment

In prison, Karenga actively complained that his sentence was more harsh than for others convicted of a similar offense, and noted that his repeated parole recommendations were ignored. During his incarceration he maintained a rigorous schedule of activity and received a steady flow of visitors. He would often endure 19-hour work days consisting of work in the prison library, running a humanist discussion group, and conducting research. His studies resulted in articles published in Black Scholar magazine that encompassed subjects ranging from feminism to pan-Africanism.

After three years, Karenga won his freedom due to the efforts of various black elected officials in California. After his release he admitted that US had made mistakes that weakened the movement and compromised its ability to change appropriately with the times. He also revealed an ideological reawakening by announcing his adherence to Marxist principles of class struggle. As Thomas L. Blair said in Retreat to the Ghetto, "In Karenga's new view, black nationalism is reactionary because in the pursuit of an elusive ideal of unity it makes class contradictions among blacks." Baraka also made the shift in philosophy, thus ending the militant cultural revolution of blacks started in the 1960s.

In the years that followed, Karenga would continue to rethink his position on black identity and once again embrace the principles of black culturalism. Prominent in his thoughts was the need for blacks to work together toward common goals and, especially for Africans to transcend borders of country and tribe. "In the final analysis shared social wealth and work are key to African economic development," he said, according to The Black 100.

Karenga's Marxist leanings continued to show in his negative opinion of black capitalism, which he felt subverted the black cause and resulted in blacks losing touch with their true identity. To further press the cause of black unity, Karenga and his wife Tiamoya increased their involvement with the Kwanzaa holiday over the years. By having no elements of elitism, exclusivity, or intellectualism, Kwanzaa is fully accessible to the masses and cannot be claimed as the special province of any one group, according to Karenga.

Voice of Reason During Los Angeles Riots

In addition to serving as professor and chairperson of the Department of Black Studies at California State University at Long Beach in the 1990s, Karenga became chairperson of the President's Task Force on Multicultural Education and Campus Diversity at the school. He also was appointed director of the African American Cultural Center in Los Angeles. After the 1992 riots in Los Angeles that followed the beating of Rodney King by police, Karenga once again became a voice of healing in the aftermath.

Karenga sponsored workshops and lectures to help close the racial wounds resulting from the event. Karenga remained reasonable and called for cool heads while the Rodney King trial was underway and blacks were threatening retribution if the jury gave the police a light sentence. "L.A. can be a model in a positive way or a negative way," he was quoted as saying in Newsweek while the trial was underway.

The Kwanzaa holiday remains Karenga's most important legacy to the black cause. His influence is demonstrated by the fact that by the 1990s Kwanzaa was celebrated by over 18 million blacks in the United States, Canada, the Caribbean, Europe, and Africa. He and his wife have presided over hundreds of Kwanzaas all over the world. "As cultural nationalists, we believe that you must rescue and reconstruct African history and culture to revitalize African culture today in America," he said in Emerge. "Kwanzaa became a way of doing just that. I wanted to stress the need for reorientation of values, to borrow the collective life-affirming ones from our past and use them to enrich our present."

Further Reading

Blair, Thomas L., Retreat to the Ghetto, The End of a Dream, Hill& Wang, 1977.

The Eyes on the Prize Civil Rights Reader, Penguin, 1991.

Salley, Columbus, The Black 100, Citadel Press, 1993.

Van Deburg, William L., New Day in Babylon, The Black Power Movement and American Culture 1965-1975, University of Chicago Press, 1992.

Black Enterprise, December 1991, p. 22; December 1993, p. 107.

Detroit Free Press Magazine, December 4, 1994, p. 6.

Ebony, September 1975, p. 170.

Essence, December 1989, p. 50; December 1992, pp. 96-98,129.

Emerge, January 1992, pp. 11-12.

Newsweek, August 22, 1966, pp. 28-29; March 29, 1993, p. 30. □

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