Ronald McKinley Everett
July 14, 1941
Parsonsburg, Maryland, U.S.
|Spouse(s)||Brenda Lorraine "Haiba" Karenga (divorced)|
Tiamoyo Karenga (1970–)
|Criminal charge||Felony assault and false imprisonment|
|Penalty||One to 10 years in prison|
Maulana Ndabezitha Karenga (born Ronald McKinley Everett, July 14, 1941) , previously known as Ron Karenga, is an American professor of Africana studies, activist, and author best known as the creator of the pan-African and the African-American holiday of Kwanzaa.
Born in Parsonsburg, Maryland, to an African-American family, Karenga studied at Los Angeles City College and the University of California, Los Angeles. He was active in the Black Power movement of the 1960s and 1970s, joining the Congress of Racial Equality and Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. Modeling the holiday after the African "first fruit" traditions, Karenga created Kwanzaa in 1966. The rituals of the holiday promote African traditions, including the "seven principles of African heritage".
Karenga and Hakim Jamal co-founded the black nationalist group US Organization, which became involved in violent clashes with the Black Panther Party in 1969. In 1971, he was convicted of felony assault and false imprisonment. He denied involvement and claimed the prosecution was political in nature. Karenga was imprisoned in California Men's Colony until he received parole in 1975.
Karenga has been awarded two doctorates, one in Political Science in 1976 and one in Social Ethics in 1994. He chairs the Africana Studies Department at California State University, Long Beach and is the author of several books.
Karenga was born in Parsonsburg, Maryland, the 14th child and seventh son in the family. His father was a tenant farmer and Baptist minister who employed the family to work fields under an effective sharecropping arrangement. Karenga moved to Los Angeles in 1959, joining his older brother who was a teacher there, and attended Los Angeles City College. He became active with civil rights organizations Congress of Racial Equality and Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, took an interest in African studies, and was elected as LACC's first African-American student president.
After earning his associate degree, he matriculated at the University of California, Los Angeles and earned BA and MA degrees in political science. He studied Swahili, Arabic, and other African-related subjects. Among his influences at UCLA were Jamaican anthropologist and Negritudist Councill Taylor, who contested the Eurocentric view of alien cultures as primitive. During this period, he took the name Karenga (Swahili for "keeper of tradition") and the title Maulana (Swahili-Arabic for "master teacher").
Main article: US Organization
The Watts riots broke out when Karenga was a year into his doctoral studies. The Black Congress was formed as a community-rebuilding organization in the aftermath. Within the BC, a discussion group centered on black nationalist ideas, called the Circle of Seven, was formed, which included Hakim Jamal (a cousin of Malcolm X) and Karenga. The group published US Magazine (meaning "Us black people") and in 1966 formed an organization called US. The organization joined in several community revival programs and was featured in press reports. Karenga cited Malcolm X's Afro-American Unity program as an influence on the US organization's work:
Malcolm was the major African American thinker that influenced me in terms of nationalism and Pan-Africanism. As you know, towards the end, when Malcolm is expanding his concept of Islam, and of nationalism, he stresses Pan-Africanism in a particular way. And he argues that, and this is where we have the whole idea that cultural revolution and the need for revolution, he argues that we need a cultural revolution, he argues that we must return to Africa culturally and spiritually, even if we can't go physically. And so that's a tremendous impact on US.
Karenga soon diverged from Malcolm X's ideas on black nationalism and took US in a direction more focused on promoting African culture. Jamal and other adherents to Malcolm X's ideas left the group.
As racial disturbances spread across the country, Karenga appeared at a series of black power conferences, joining other groups in urging the establishment of a separate political structure for African Americans. US developed a youth component with paramilitary aspects called the Simba Wachanga, which advocated and practiced community self-defense and service to the masses.
In 1966, Karenga founded the newspaper Harambee, which started as a newsletter for US and eventually became the newspaper for the Los Angeles Black Congress, an umbrella organization for several groups.
During the late 1960s, the US organization became bitter rivals with the Black Panther Party over their differing views on black nationalism. The Federal Bureau of Investigation intensified this antipathy as part of its COINTELPRO operations, sending forged letters to each group which purported to be from the other group, so that each would believe that the other was publicly humiliating them. The rivalry came to a climax during 1969, with a series of armed confrontations and retaliatory shootings that left four Panthers dead, and more injured on both sides. A memorandum of the Los Angeles field office of the FBI dated May 26, 1970, confirmed that the surge of conflict suited their objectives and more would be encouraged:
"It is intended that US, Inc. will be discreetly and appropriately advised of the time and locations of BPP activities in order that the two organizations might be brought together and thus grant nature the opportunity to take her due course."
According to Louis Tackwood, a former informant with the Los Angeles Police Department's Criminal Conspiracies Section and author of The Glass House Tapes, Ronald Karenga was knowingly provided financial, arms, and other support by LAPD, with Tackwood as liaison, for US operations against the Black Panthers. Karenga enjoyed a level of trust among figures in government, including LAPD Chief Thomas Reddin and California Governor Ronald Reagan.
Karenga created Kwanzaa in 1966 to be the first pan-African holiday. Karenga said his goal was to "give Blacks an alternative to the existing holiday and give Blacks an opportunity to celebrate themselves and their history, rather than simply imitate the practice of the dominant society."
Kwanzaa is inspired by African "first fruit" traditions, and the name chosen is from Swahili, "matunda ya kwanza." The rituals of the holiday promote African traditions and Nguzo Saba, the "seven principles of African Heritage" that Karenga described as "a communitarian African philosophy":
In 1971, Karenga was sentenced to one to 10 years in prison on counts of felony assault and false imprisonment. One of the victims gave testimony of how Karenga and other men tortured her and another woman. The woman described having been stripped naked and beaten with an electrical cord. Karenga's estranged wife, Brenda Lorraine Karenga, testified that she sat on the other woman's stomach while another man forced water into her mouth through a hose.
A May 14, 1971, article in the Los Angeles Times described the testimony of one of the women:
Deborah Jones, who once was given the Swahili title of an African queen, said she and Gail Davis were whipped with an electrical cord and beaten with a karate baton after being ordered to remove their clothes. She testified that a hot soldering iron was placed in Miss Davis' mouth and placed against Miss Davis' face and that one of her own big toes was tightened in a vise. Karenga, head of US, also put detergent and running hoses in their mouths, she said. They also were hit on the heads with toasters.
Jones and Brenda Karenga testified that Karenga believed the women were conspiring to poison him, which Davis has attributed to a combination of ongoing police pressure and his own drug abuse.
Karenga denied any involvement in the torture, and argued that the prosecution was political in nature. He was imprisoned at the California Men's Colony, where he studied and wrote on feminism, Pan-Africanism, and other subjects. The US Organization fell into disarray during his absence and was disbanded in 1974. After he petitioned several black state officials to support his parole on fair sentencing grounds, it was granted in 1975.
Karenga has declined to discuss the convictions with reporters and does not mention them in biographical materials. During a 2007 appearance at Wabash College, he again denied the charges and described himself as a former political prisoner.
After his parole Karenga re-established the US Organization under a new structure. He was awarded his first Ph.D. in 1976 from United States International University (now known as Alliant International University) for a 170-page dissertation titled "Afro-American Nationalism: Social Strategy and Struggle for Community". Later in his career, in 1994, he was awarded a second Ph.D. in social ethics from the University of Southern California for an 803-page dissertation titled "Maat, the moral ideal in ancient Egypt: A study in classical African ethics."
In 1977, he formulated a set of principles called Kawaida, a Swahili term for normal. Karenga called on African-Americans to adopt his secular humanism and reject other practices as mythical (Karenga 1977, pp. 14, 23–24, 27, 44–45).[need quotation to verify]
Karenga chairs the Africana Studies Department at California State University, Long Beach. He is the director of the Kawaida Institute for Pan African Studies and the author of several books, including his Introduction to Black Studies, a comprehensive Black/African Studies textbook now in its fourth edition (2010), originally published in 1982. He is also known for having co-hosted, in 1984, a conference that gave rise to the Association for the Study of Classical African Civilizations, and in 1995, he sat on the organizing committee and authored the mission statement of the Million Man March.
Karenga delivered a eulogy at the 2001 funeral service of New Black Panther Party leader Khalid Abdul Muhammad, praising him for his organizing activities and commitment to black empowerment.
In 2002, scholar Molefi Kete Asante listed Maulana Karenga on his list of 100 Greatest African Americans.
The seven-day holiday Kwanzaa ... was originated by Ron "Maulana" Karenga (born Ronald McKinley Everett)
Ronald McKinley Everett was born in 1941. Maulana Kerenga was born sometime in 1963.