Kronicles of Kwanzaa

“Michelle and I send our warmest wishes to all those celebrating Kwanzaa this holiday season,” said President Obama in a December 26, 2011 statement. “Today marks the beginning of the week-long celebration honoring African American heritage and culture through the seven principles of Kwanzaa—unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity, and faith.” The president left no word about the holiday’s founder. 

“I created Kwanzaa. People think it’s African. But it’s not. I wanted to give black people a holiday of their own. So I came up with Kwanzaa. I said it was African because you know black people in this country wouldn’t celebrate it if they knew it was American. Also, I put it around Christmas because I knew that’s when a lot of bloods (blacks) would be partying!” 

That was Ron Karenga, aka Maulena Karenga, aka Ronald McKinley Everett, born in Parsonsburg, Maryland, on July 14, 1941, speaking at a National Conference of Afro-American writers at Howard University in 1978. As Hollie I. West of the Washington Post noted, Karenga was a political activist in the late 1960s and came to prominence as a theoretician of the black nationalist movement. In The Quotable Karenga handbook, the Kwanzaa inventor told followers, “When it’s burn, let’s see how much you burn. When it’s kill, let’s see how much you kill. When it’s blow up, let’s see how much you blow up.” 

As West notes, Karenga also established Kuzaliwa, a tribute honoring Malcolm X’s birthday on May 19, and Uhuru Day on August 11, to commemorate the 1965 “civil disturbance” in Watts. Between 1971 and 1975, Karenga “dropped out of sight while serving a prison term for ordering the beating of a woman.” Like the composite character president David Garrow described in Rising Star: The Making of Barack Obama, West left out some details.

In 1971, a court convicted Karenga of kidnapping and torturing two women in his organization. According to a story in the Los Angeles Times, Karenga stripped naked Deborah Jones and Gail Davis, whipped them with an electrical cord, and beat the women with a karate baton. The Kwanzaa founder also stuck a hot soldering iron into Davis’ mouth, and used a vise to clamp down on one of her toes. Karenga apparently didn’t invent a holiday to commemorate that event.

Before that torture session, Karenga created US, a black nationalist organization also known as “United Slaves.” Ann Coulter makes the case that the FBI, through its counterintelligence program, manipulated US to counter the rival Black Panthers, who made common cause with white radicals. On January 17, 1969, the Black Panthers and United Slaves shot it out at UCLA over control of the black studies program. Panthers John Huggins and Alprentice “Bunchy” Carter perished in the gun battle. 

Ron Karenga was also an inspiration to the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA) headed by Cinque Mtume, also known as Donald DeFreeze, who was sentenced to five years for robbery and a shootout with police. Mtume escaped from Soledad prison and hooked up with radical activist Patricia “Mizmoon” Soltysik. The SLA’s seven-headed cobra symbolized Umoja, Kujichagulia, Ujima, Ujamaa, Nia, Kuumba, and Imani, the same principles of Kwanzaa outlined by the composite character president in 2011. 

For Soltysik and other Berkeley dropouts in the group, the SLA stood against the evils of racism, sexism, ageism, fascism, individualism, competitiveness, and possessiveness, plus all other institutions that sustained capitalism. The SLA assassinated Oakland school superintendent Marcus Foster and kidnapped heiress Patricia Hearst. She became a collaborator with the SLA, in one robbery blasting a storefront with a submachine gun. Those unfamiliar with the case are in luck. 

The SLA got a cinematic treatment in the 1976 film “Network” as the Ecumenical Liberation Army, led by the Great Ahmed Kahn. The Ecumenicals kidnap wealthy heiress Mary Ann Gifford, played by Kathy Cronkite, Walter Cronkite’s daughter. In the style of Patty Hearst, Gifford joins the group in bank robberies, which they record on film. When the communist Laureen Hobbs (Marlene Warfield) uses the footage in her “Mao Tse-Tung Hour” show, Gifford calls her out.  

“You fucking fascist! Did you see the film we made of the San Marino jail breakout, demonstrating the rising up of the seminal prisoner class infrastructure?” Hobbs tells Gifford she can “blow the seminal prisoner class infrastructure out your ass!” For cinéma vérité about the 70s, it doesn’t get better than “Network.” 

In 1974, Cinque Mtume and five other SLA members perished in a gun battle with Los Angeles police. Patricia Hearst was not captured until 1975 and after two years in prison, President Carter commuted her sentence. In 2001, hours before leaving office, President Clinton pardoned her, among many others.  

In 1975, SLA member Kathleen Anne Soliah took part in a bank robbery in Carmichael, California, that claimed the life of Myrna Opsahl, a doctor’s wife who had come to deposit church funds. Soliah fled to Minnesota, masqueraded as housewife Sara Jane Olson, and was not captured until 1999. In 2009, after serving seven years, the SLA vet was released from prison in California and allowed to serve her parole in Minnesota. 

Deborah Jones and Gail Davis do not emerge in internet searches. The man who tortured these women is now professor of “Africana Studies” at Cal State Long Beach. Check out his website for information on the holiday he founded. On December 26, we can find out what Joe Biden has to say about Kwanzaa. 

Maybe the pasty-faced Delaware Democrat, who claims to “choose truth over facts” will tell African Americans they “ain’t black” if they fail to observe Karenga’s holiday. As for white liberals, Ann Coulter suggests they sing, to the tune of “Jingle Bells”:  

Kwanzaa bells, dashikis sell 

Whitey has to pay 

Burning, shooting, oh what fun 

On this made-up holiday!

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About Lloyd Billingsley

Lloyd Billingsley is the author of Hollywood Party and other books including Bill of Writes and Barack ‘em Up: A Literary Investigation. His journalism has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, the Spectator (London) and many other publications. Billingsley serves as a policy fellow with the Independent Institute.

Photo: Ron Karenga, ca.1990s. Karenga is known for the creation of the Kwanzaa holiday in 1966. Robert Abbott Sengstacke/Getty Images