In A Nutshell
The celebration of Kwanzaa was created as an African-American alternative to Christmas. Created in 1966, the holiday honors seven key aspects of community. However, Kwanzaa is somewhat tainted by the past of its founder, black power activist Maulana Karenga, who spent four years in prison for allegedly torturing two women.
The Whole Bushel
First celebrated in 1966, Kwanzaa is a week-long holiday held between December 26th and January 1st. It was created by Maulana Karenga (born Ron Everett) “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.” The African-American holiday ends with a feast and the giving of gifts, and is based on seven key principles of community, including faith and unity. It is debatable just how prevalent Kwanzaa is, with some sources claiming two million adherents to the holiday and others tens of millions.
At the outset, Kwanzaa is an honorable pursuit, but its creator boasts a dubious history. Karenga is a controversial civil rights advocate, one of the co-founders of a group called “Us” (“Us black people”). The group, often described as a revolutionary black power movement, attracted the attention of the FBI and came into murderous opposition with the like-minded Black Panthers.
In 1971, Karenga was convicted of a horrifying crime against two women, Deborah Jones and Gail Davis. For reasons witnesses would later attribute to neuroses and drug abuse, Karenga believed the women were conspiring to poison him. He, along with his wife and a retinue of men, forced Jones and Davis to strip down, then beat the women savagely with electrical cords and a karate baton. They were tortured with a soldering iron and had water and detergent forced down their throats (among other attacks).
Maulana Karenga was paroled in 1975 and to this day continues to deny involvement in the crime, claiming the conviction had been an attack against his belief structure and that he’d actually been held as a political prisoner. The likelihood of this defense is somewhat debatable, as one of the key witnesses in the trial against him was actually his wife.