So This Is Kwanzaa

You don’t like the current slate of holidays that we celebrate here in America? Then why not create one of your own? That’s exactly what Ronald Everett did back in 1966. He named it “Kwanzaa.”

Since then, many people have embraced this new holiday. Check out almost any appointment calendar and you’ll find it duly noted on December 26 that “Kwanzaa begins.” Stroll through your local card and party store and you’ll find Kwanzaa items. You can even look it up in the World Book Encyclopedia where you’ll find a nifty little article that says Kwanzaa was created by “a black cultural leader.” And those who celebrate it will often tell you that it’s not just for African Americans.

They’re not telling you the whole story; in fact, it’s doubtful that they even know the origins of Kwanzaa. Few people do, because the voluminous amount of ink expended on Ronald McKinley Everett most often refers to him as Dr. Maulana Karenga, and rarely examines his past.

However, the story of Ron Everett, a.k.a. Dr. Karenga, has been told—notably in a Dallas Morning News article from December 26, 1996 and in David Horowitz’s late publication Heterodoxy, in the December, 1999 issue. The story behind the holiday and the man who created it is most interesting.

Forget the notion that Kwanzaa is a holiday for all people. Dr. Karenga states that he created it at the height of the black liberation movement as part of a “re-Africanization” process—“a going back to black.” Dr. Karenga, still just “Ron Everett” at the time, was heavily into the black power movement. He started an organization called US. The letters have nothing to do with “United States,” but just means “US” as opposed to “THEM.”

He dropped the Everett name, adopted the Swahili one, which means “master teacher,” shaved his head, and began wearing traditional African clothing. US members, similarly attired, often clashed with other black militant groups such as the Black Panthers. The fighting was about which group would control the new Afro-American Studies Center at UCLA.

There were incidents involving beatings and shootings including one in 1969 in which two US members shot and killed two Black Panthers. Dr. Karenga had other run-ins with the law including charges that he abused women. In 1971, he was convicted of assaulting female members of US, and he served time in prison. An LA Times snippet describes the torture of the women as involving a hot soldering iron placed in the mouth of one, while the other’s toe was mashed in a vise.

Dr. Karenga says that he is the victim; he was quoted in The News: “All the negative charges are in fact disinformation and frame-ups by the FBI and local and national police.”

One thing that’s interesting to note about the inventor of Kwanzaa:

practically all of his crimes were committed against black people. And yet, today, he is simply known as an academic who created a holiday for cultural unity. Nine years after Kwanzaa was invented, he decided to moderate his views and became a Marxist. In 1979, he was hired to run the Black Studies Department at Cal State – Long Beach, in all likelihood, the first ex-con to do so.

And so this is Kwanzaa—the militant past of the creator now ignored in favor of the so-called seven principles of Nguza Saba—stuff like unity, family and self-determination that could have come from Bill Bennett’s “Book of Virtues.” The word “Kwanzaa” is Swahili, meaning something like “fresh fruits of harvest.”

No one remembers the part about “re-Africanization,” or the sevenfold path of blackness that Dr. Karenga once espoused. Hardly anyone remembers the shootings, the beatings the tortures and the prison terms that were once the center of his life. It’s just not PC to bring that sort of stuff up now that Kwanzaa is commercialized and making big bucks.

Dr. Karenga does his part to promote the holiday and forget the past. In December, he goes on his annual “Kwanzaa circuit” of speeches and appearances. And he writes. Remember that little article in the World Book Encyclopedia that legitimized Dr. Karenga as a “black cultural leader?”  You guessed it—he wrote the article himself.

Happy Kwanzaa.