Maulana Karenga

Maulana Karenga
2003 photo
Born Ronald McKinley Everett
(1941-07-14) July 14, 1941
Parsonsburg, Maryland
Occupation Author
Spouse(s) Brenda Lorraine "Haiba" Karenga (divorced)
Tiamoyo Karenga (1970–)

Maulana Ndabezitha Karenga,[2][3][4] 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 nationalism and social change organization US.

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 1974. He received his PhD shortly afterward and began a career in academia.

Early life

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.[5] 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.[6]

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.[7] During this period he took the name Karenga (Swahili for "keeper of tradition") and the title Maulana (Swahili-Arabic for "master teacher").[5]

1960s activism

US Organization

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").[8] 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.[9]

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 para-military 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.[10]


Karenga created Kwanzaa in 1966[11] 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."[12]

Kwanzaa is inspired by African "first fruit" traditions, and the name chosen is from Swahili, "matunda ya kwanza."[13] 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.

Karenga was also convicted for brutally torturing women, as described by the Colorado Springs Gazette:

   According to a Los Angeles Times account of testimony published at the time of the trial, Karenga and the other men forced the women to remove their clothes, and beat them with an electrical cord and a karate baton. The men put a hot soldering iron in one woman’s mouth and against her face, and they squeezed one woman’s big toe in a vise, the Times reported. Karenga’s former wife, Brenda Lorraine Karenga, testified he sat on one woman’s stomach while another man forced water into her mouth through a hose, according to the Times. “Vietnamese torture is nothing compared to what I know,” Karenga allegedly told the women, the Times reported Oct. 7, 1970, shortly after Karenga’s arrest. Jones said during the trial that Karenga initiated the attacks because he suspected her and Davis of trying to poison him with “crystals.”

Karenga's mental state was also described as "bizarre" during the sentencing, and he only served roughly four to five years in prison. He has never repented for his violent past.

Criminal convictions and imprisonment

In 1971, Karenga was sentenced to one to ten years in prison on counts of felonious assault and imprisonment.[14] 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.[15]

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.[5][16]

Karenga denied any involvement in the torture, and argued that the prosecution was political in nature.[5][17] 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.[18]

Karenga has declined to discuss the convictions with reporters and does not mention them in biographical materials.[16] During a 2007 appearance at Wabash College, he again denied the charges and described himself as a former political prisoner.[19]

Later career

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."

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, 44–5).

Karenga is the Chair of 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. 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.[20]


Published works

  • Introduction to Black Studies, 2002, 3rd edition, University of Sankore Press. ISBN 0-943412-23-4
  • Kwanzaa: A Celebration of Family, Community and Culture, 1998. ISBN 0-943412-21-8
  • Maat, The Moral Ideal in Ancient Egypt. ISBN 0-415-94753-7
  • Odu Ifa: The Ethical Teachings. ISBN 0-943412-22-6
  • Kawaida and Questions of Life and Struggle. ISBN 0-943412-29-3
  • Selections from the Husia. ISBN 0-943412-06-4
  • Book of Coming Forth By Day. ISBN 0-943412-14-5
  • Handbook of Black Studies co-edited with Molefi Kete Asante. ISBN 0-7619-2840-5
  • The Million Man March/Day of Absence: A Commemorative Anthology, co-edited with Haki Madhubuti. ISBN 0-88378-188-3
  • Maulana Karenga: An Intellectual Portrait , Polity. ISBN 0-7456-4828-2


  1. Maulana Karenga: An Intellectual Portrait
  2. De Leon, David (1994). Leaders from the 1960s: A Biographical Sourcebook of American Activism (1st ed.). p. 390. ISBN 978-0313274145. Retrieved 2012-05-13.
  3. Chapman, Roger, ed. (2010). Culture Wars: An Encyclopedia of Issues, Viewpoints, and Voices. p. 308. ISBN 978-0765617613. Retrieved 2012-05-13. The seven-day holiday Kwanzaa ... was originated by Ron "Maulana" Karenga (born Ronald McKinley Everett)
  4. Mayes, Keith A. (2009). Kwanzaa: Black Power and the Making of the African-American Holiday Tradition. p. 52. ISBN 978-0415998550. Retrieved 2012-05-13. Ronald McKinley Everett was born in 1941. Maulana Kerenga was born sometime in 1963.
  5. 1 2 3 4 Brown, Scot (2003). Fighting for US. ISBN 978-0-8147-9878-2.
  6. Otnes, Cele C.; Lowrey, Tina M., eds. (2011). Contemporary Consumption Rituals.
  7. Karenga, Maulana (2002). "UCLA Center for African American Studies, Oral History Program" (Interview). Interviewed by Elston L. Carr. University of California.
  8. 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: 74–5
  9. "Maulana Karenga Malcolm X". "The History Makers". Archived from the original on May 19, 2003.
  10. Scot Brown, US: Maulana Karenga, the US Organization, and Black Cultural Nationalism, NYU Press, 2003,
  11. Alexander, Ron (December 30, 1983). "The Evening Hours". The New York Times". Retrieved 2006-12-15.
  12. Kwanzaa celebrates culture, principles Archived July 8, 2011, at the Wayback Machine.
  13. Mayes, Keith A. (2009-09-10). Kwanzaa: Black Power and the Making of the African-American Holiday Tradition. Routledge. p. 84. ISBN 9781135284008.
  14. Scholer, J. Lawrence (January 15, 2001). "The Story of Kwanzaa". The Dartmouth Review.
  15. "Karenga Tortured Women Followers, Wife Tells Court". Los Angeles Times: 3. May 13, 1971.
  16. 1 2 Swanson, Perry (November 22, 2006). "Backers say past of founder doesn't diminish Kwanzaa". The Gazette (Colorado Springs).
  17. Halisi, Clyde (1972), "Maulana Ron Karenga: Black Leader in Captivity". Black Scholar, May, pp. 27–31.
  18. "Whatever happened to... Ron Karenga". Ebony. 30 (11): 170. September 1975.
  19. Stewart, Brandon (December 1, 2007). "The Story of Ron Karenga, Kwanzaa's Founder". Wabash Conservative Union. Retrieved 2012-12-30.
  20. Asante, Molefi Kete (2002). 100 Greatest African Americans: A Biographical Encyclopedia. Amherst, New York: Prometheus Books. ISBN 1-57392-963-8.
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