Just when I thought that the celebration of Kwanzaa was dying a slow death from global neglect, the City of Philadelphia announced that for the first time in its history a Kwanzaa kinara would be installed on the apron of City Hall next to the Christmas tree and the Menorah.
Kwanzaa, for those who may need a refresher course, is derived from the Swahilia phrase, “matunda ya kwanza” which means “first fruits.” Among some black Americans, it has become known as a celebration of community, family and culture. It begins on December 26 and lasts for seven days.
Of course, since the vast majority of black Americans are Christians, Kwanzaa has traditionally been a ‘sidebar’ holiday in black communities, something to tap off the “real” holidays, much like an innocuous nightcap after a great meal.
Yet suddenly in 2023-24, the little holiday is front and center, at least in the City of Philadelphia.
The 11-foot tall kinara in question, designed by artist Maisha Sullivan-Ongoza, has a gritty homespun look with engravings of corn and fruit at its base. It looks out of place next to the ornate Second Empire style building that is still the largest free-standing masonry building in the world.
At the inaugural ceremony, City Council member Kendra Brooks, a member of the radical, socialist-leaning Working Families Party who in 2020 voted against increasing the police budget (City Council passed it anyway), praised the installation as a step forward for the city.
Brooks was all smiles, dressed as she was in an African shawl, her posture erect and her head thrown back in triumphal esprit de corps.
She said she didn’t know why it took the city so long to have its own kinara and that its presence is long overdue.
Between planning and bureaucracy, the project took a year to come to fruition. Brooks said that she was filled with joy for what the kinara represents: heritage, culture, and unity.
“We have been celebrating Kwanzaa here in Philadelphia for over 50 years, thanks to the great work of Mama Maisha and the Kwanzaa Cooperative,” she said.
The kinara event was given adequate coverage by The Philadelphia Inquirer and WHYY. Both publications gave readers a sanitized bio on the history of the man who invented Kwanzaa.
“Kwanzaa, which was created in 1966 by activist Maulana Ron Karenga, is based on harvest celebrations found throughout Africa. It is a celebration of African American culture and the Nguzo Saba, or seven principles…”
“Kwanzaa was started in 1966 by Maulana Karenga, a professor of Africana studies at California State University, Long Beach as a non-religious celebration of African-American culture. Since then, it has gone global, being adopted by members of the African diaspora around the world.”
In both these reports, we have the creation of an artificial reality: Maulana Karenga, a professor of Africana studies at California State University, created Kwanzaa because he’s a good man and he wanted to do good in the world.
In a press photo of the event, I noticed a small picture of Dr. Karenga on a table filled with African cultural artifacts used in the City Hall ceremony. From a distance (the photo was small), Karenga resembles a benign Father Divine of the Peace Mission Movement.
Yet unlike Father Divine, Karenga is not smiling. Look closely at that photo and you’ll see that his head is held high in what any amateur psychic ‘face reader’ might say was ‘super arrogant body language.’
This caused me to wonder how many Philadelphia City Council members know the real history of Kwanzaa’s founder, especially when that history is rarely alluded to.
A little about Our Man Karenga:
One year before he founded Kwanzaa, Karenga established the United Slaves (US), a violent anti-white organization in competition with the Black Panthers for recruits and national notoriety.
The name alone–‘United Slaves’– has a deranged ring.
In a 2019 column that has now become a Kwanzaa classic, Ann Coulter writes about Karenga’s criminal past:
“In one barbarous outburst, Karenga’s United Slaves shot two Black Panthers to death on the UCLA campus: Al “Bunchy” Carter and John Huggins. Karenga himself served time — a useful stepping-stone for his current position as the chair of the Africana Studies Department at California State University at Long Beach.”
But that’s not all. These two Black Panther murders led to a series of retaliatory shootings that lasted for months. Two other Black Panther members were killed and another wounded by United Slaves members later in 1969.
To the general public, the feud between US and the Panthers appeared to be an ideological turf war.
Karenga in 1965 had a shaved head and dressed in dashiki clothing. He was also fond of uttering Swahili incantations. He was also acting as an agent for the secret police.
The Wall Street Journal reported that:
“A few weeks after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Mr. Karenga slipped into Sacramento for a private chat with Governor Reagan, at the governor’s request. The black nationalist also met clandestinely with Los Angeles Police Chief Thomas Reddin after Mr. King was killed.”
In a May 1974 retrospective of Karenga’s duplicitous, criminal past, Ann Arbor News exposed the details of Karenga’s checkered past:
“According to a former undercover agent for LAPD’s Criminal Conspiracy Division, Louis Tackwood, Karenga was financed, armed and encouraged in the attack on the Panthers by the police. Tackwood claims that he acted as the liaison between CCS and Karenga’s United Slaves. ‘I contacted Ron Karenga and gave him orders to the effect that was given to me,’ Tackwood states in a book based on his confessions, The Glass House Tapes, ‘that he was to curtail the Panther Party’s growth no matter what it cost.’ Tackwood’s allegations were confirmed in a lie detector test conducted by Chris Gugas, a past president of the American Polygraph Association.”
Jump to 1971, when Karenga was sentenced to one to ten years for a series of crimes related to felony assault and false imprisonment.
This fact is highlighted in David Horowitz’s 2006 book, The Professors: The 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America. (Horowitz’s book was widely ridiculed by the Left as a “right wing snuff list” and caused some student unrest at Duke University when Horowitz was invited to speak there.)
Karenga’s 1971 crimes are even enshrined into the Wikipedia canon, where one can read that one of Karenga’s 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, as Karenga’s estranged wife, Brenda Loraine, testified that she sat on the other woman’s stomach while another man forced water into her mouth through a hose.”
For these crimes, Karenga was convicted of felony assault, torture, and false imprisonment of women.
To this day, Karenga denies involvement in those crimes and claims that he was held as a political prisoner. Karenga was imprisoned in California Men’s Colony until 1975, when he was paroled.
Following his three year imprisonment, Karemga went on to earn two doctorate degrees before finding a home teaching Africana studies at California State University.
Now that Kwanzaa has become a mainstream holiday worthy of Hallmark cards and big urban ceremonies like the one in Philadelphia, another fact is being obliterated or hidden from history: Shortly after Kwanzaa’s founding, Karenga liked to say that it was meant to be “a black alternative to Christmas.”
In fact, unlike most black Americans, Karenga declared himself a secular humanist, questioned the sanity of Jesus Christ, and even declared Christianity a “White religion” that black people should avoid.
Karenga’s saw Kwanzaa as a holiday that flaunted the “sevenfold path of blackness—think black, talk black, act black, create black, buy black, vote black, and live black.”
Kwanzaa was never about “Peace on earth, goodwill toward men.”