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Maulana Ndabezitha Karenga,[1][2][3] previously known as Ron Karenga, (born July 14, 1941) is an African-American professor of Africana studies, activist and author, best known as the creator of the pan-African and African-American holiday of Kwanzaa. Karenga was active in the Black Power movement of the 1960s and 1970s, and co-founded with Hakim Jamal the black nationalist group US Organization.

Maulana Karenga
Maulana Ndabezitha Karenga (Ronald McKinley Everett) 2003.jpg
2003 photo
Ronald McKinley Everett

(1941-07-14) July 14, 1941 (age 78)
Spouse(s)Brenda Lorraine "Haiba" Karenga (divorced)
Tiamoyo Karenga (1970–)

Born in Parsonsburg, Maryland to an African-American family, Karenga studied at Los Angeles City College and the University of California, Los Angeles. During his student years, he involved himself in activism and joined the Congress of Racial Equality. Through his activism, he became involved in violent clashes with the Black Panther Party. In 1971, he was convicted of felonious assault and false imprisonment. He was imprisoned in California Men's Colony until he received parole in 1975. He received his PhD shortly afterward and began a career in academia.

Early lifeEdit

Ron Everett was born in Parsonsburg, Maryland, the fourteenth 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.[4] Everett moved to Los Angeles in 1959, joining his older brother who was a teacher there, and attended Los Angeles City College (LACC). He became active with civil rights organizations Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) and Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), took an interest in African studies, and was elected as LACC's first African-American student president.[5]

After earning his associate degree, he matriculated at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) 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.[6] During this period he took the name Karenga (Swahili for "keeper of tradition") and the title Maulana (Swahili-Arabic for "master teacher").[4]

1960s activismEdit

US OrganizationEdit

The Watts riots broke out when Karenga was a year into his doctoral studies. Karenga and the Circle of Seven established a community organization in the aftermath called US (meaning "Us black people").[7] 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.[8]

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.[citation needed] US developed a youth component with para-military aspects called the Simba Wachanga which advocated and practiced community self-defense and service to the masses.[citation needed]

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.[9]


Karenga, center, with wife Tiamoyo at left, celebrating Kwanzaa at the Rochester Institute of Technology on December 12, 2003.

Karenga created Kwanzaa in 1966[10] 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."[11]

Kwanzaa is inspired by African "first fruit" traditions, and the name chosen is from Swahili, "matunda ya kwanza."[12] 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":

  • Umoja (unity)—To strive for and maintain unity in the family, community, nation, and race.
  • Kujichagulia (self-determination)—To define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves, and speak for ourselves.
  • Ujima (collective work and responsibility)—To build and maintain our community together and make our brother's and sister's problems our problems and to solve them together.
  • Ujamaa (cooperative economics)—To build and maintain our own stores, shops, and other businesses and to profit from them together.
  • Nia (purpose)—To make our collective vocation the building and development of our community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness.
  • Kuumba (creativity)—To do always as much as we can, in the way we can, in order to leave our community more beautiful and beneficial than we inherited it.
  • Imani (faith)—To believe with all our heart in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders, and the righteousness and victory of our struggle.

Criminal conviction and imprisonmentEdit

In 1971, Karenga was sentenced to one to ten years in prison on counts of felonious assault and imprisonment.[13] One of the victims gave testimony of how Karenga and other men tortured her and another woman. The woman described having been stripped 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.[14]

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.[4][15]

Karenga denied any involvement in the torture, and argued that the prosecution was political in nature.[4][16] 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.[17]

Karenga has declined to discuss the convictions with reporters and does not mention them in biographical materials.[15] During a 2007 appearance at Wabash College, he again denied the charges and described himself as a former political prisoner.[18]

Later careerEdit

After his parole Karenga re-established the US Organization under a new structure. He was awarded his first PhD in 1976 from United States International University (now known as Alliant International University) for a 170-page dissertation entitled "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 (USC), for an 803-page dissertation entitled "Maat, the moral ideal in ancient Egypt: A study in classical African ethics."[citation needed]

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.[19] 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.[citation needed]

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.[20]


Published worksEdit

  • Introduction to Black Studies. 2010, 4th edition, University of Sankore Press. ISBN 0943412307 (Editions: 1982,1993,2002,2010)
  • Kwanzaa: A Celebration of Family, Community and Culture. 1998. ISBN 0943412218
  • Maat, The Moral Ideal in Ancient Egypt. ISBN 0415947537
  • Odu Ifa: The Ethical Teachings. ISBN 0943412226
  • Kawaida and Questions of Life and Struggle. ISBN 0943412293
  • Selections from the Husia. ISBN 0943412064
  • Book of Coming Forth By Day. ISBN 0943412145
  • Handbook of Black Studies, co-edited with Molefi Kete Asante. ISBN 0761928405
  • The Million Man March/Day of Absence: A Commemorative Anthology, co-edited with Haki Madhubuti. ISBN 0883781883
  • Maulana Karenga: An Intellectual Portrait, Polity. ISBN 0745648282


  1. ^ De Leon, David (1994). Leaders from the 1960s: A Biographical Sourcebook of American Activism (1st ed.). p. 390. ISBN 978-0313274145. Retrieved May 13, 2012.
  2. ^ Chapman, Roger, ed. (2010). Culture Wars: An Encyclopedia of Issues, Viewpoints, and Voices. p. 308. ISBN 978-0765617613. Retrieved May 13, 2012. The seven-day holiday Kwanzaa ... was originated by Ron "Maulana" Karenga (born Ronald McKinley Everett)
  3. ^ Mayes, Keith A. (2009). Kwanzaa: Black Power and the Making of the African-American Holiday Tradition. p. 52. ISBN 978-0415998550. Retrieved May 13, 2012. Ronald McKinley Everett was born in 1941. Maulana Kerenga was born sometime in 1963.
  4. ^ a b c d Brown, Scot (2003). Fighting for US. ISBN 978-0814798782.
  5. ^ Otnes, Cele C.; Lowrey, Tina M., eds. (2011). Contemporary Consumption Rituals.
  6. ^ Karenga, Maulana (2002). "UCLA Center for African American Studies, Oral History Program" (Interview). Interviewed by Elston L. Carr. University of California.
  7. ^ Hayes, III, Floyd W.; Jeffries, Judson L., "Us Does Not Stand for United Slaves!", Black Power in the Belly of the Beast, Chicago: University of Illinois Press: 74–75
  8. ^ "Maulana Karenga Malcolm X". "The History Makers". Archived from the original on May 19, 2003.
  9. ^ Scot Brown, US: Maulana Karenga, the US Organization, and Black Cultural Nationalism, NYU Press, 2003[ISBN missing]
  10. ^ Alexander, Ron (December 30, 1983). "The Evening Hours". The New York Times". Retrieved December 15, 2006.
  11. ^ Kwanzaa celebrates culture, principles Archived July 8, 2011, at the Wayback Machine
  12. ^ Mayes, Keith A. (2009). Kwanzaa: Black Power and the Making of the African-American Holiday Tradition. Routledge. p. 84. ISBN 978-1135284008.
  13. ^ Scholer, J. Lawrence (January 15, 2001). "The Story of Kwanzaa". The Dartmouth Review.
  14. ^ "Karenga Tortured Women Followers, Wife Tells Court". Los Angeles Times: 3. May 13, 1971.
  15. ^ a b Swanson, Perry (November 22, 2006). "Backers say past of founder doesn't diminish Kwanzaa". The Gazette (Colorado Springs).
  16. ^ Halisi, Clyde (1972), "Maulana Ron Karenga: Black Leader in Captivity". Black Scholar, May, pp. 27–31.
  17. ^ "Whatever happened to ... Ron Karenga". Ebony. 30 (11): 170. September 1975.
  18. ^ Stewart, Brandon (December 1, 2007). "The Story of Ron Karenga, Kwanzaa's Founder". Wabash Conservative Union. Retrieved December 30, 2012.
  19. ^ Africana Studies website and Official Website, both accessed November 16, 2018.
  20. ^ Asante, Molefi Kete (2002). 100 Greatest African Americans: A Biographical Encyclopedia. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books. ISBN 1573929638.

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