Today marks the first day of Kwanzaa, a week-long celebration for black Americans “to celebrate themselves and history” in the United States. Ironically, while many are familiar with the rich heritage and history of black Americans, few know anything about the horrifying and ridiculous heritage of Kwanzaa.
Kwanzaa began in 1966 when Los Angeles City College professor of Africana Studies, Ronald Everett, later re-styled Maulana Ndabezitha Karenga, launched an atheistic holiday specifically for black Americans. He derived the name from the Swahili phrase “matunda y kwanza,” which means “first fruits of the harvest.” Ironically, it is unlikely that any of the West African slaves transported to the Americas would have understood the East African phrase.
As any postmodern schoolboy knows, the seven principles of Kwanzaa are unity, self-determination, collective work, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity, and faith — not in God, but in “our people.” If those principles sound familiar, that’s because they were adopted in 1973 by the Symbionese Liberation Army, a left-wing terrorist group famous for the murders of a school superintendent and a 42-year-old mother of four in addition to kidnapping and raping 19-year-old heiress Patty Hearst.
Everett himself is no stranger to crime. In 1969 his black nationalist gang, “US,” murdered two Black Panthers during a turf war at UCLA. Two years later, Everett was sentenced to prison for felonious assault and false imprisonment after he tortured two women, Gail Davis and Deborah Jones. According to court testimony, Everett stripped the women naked, whipped them with electrical cords and karate batons, placed a hot soldering iron in Davis’ mouth and on her face, tightened Davis’ toes in a vise, put laundry detergent and running hoses in their mouths, and hit them on the head with toasters.
Despite the viciousness and extent of his crimes, Everett spent only four years in prison before a letter-writing campaign by his supporters led to a grant of parole in 1975. Helping the case for clemency was the conclusion of a psychiatrist who examined him in 1971 that Everett was insane, “both paranoid and schizophrenic.” The psychiatrist observed,
Since his admission here he has been isolated and has been exhibiting bizarre behavior, such as staring at the wall, talking to imaginary persons, claiming that he was attacked by dive-bombers and that his attorney was in the next cell. During part of the interview he would look around as if reacting to hallucination and when the examiner walked away for a moment he began a conversation with a blanket located on his bed. This man now presents a picture which can be considered both paranoid and schizophrenic with hallucinations and elusions, inappropriate affect, disorganization, and impaired contact with the environment.
Although virtually no one celebrates Everett’s invention, schoolchildren for decades have been taught the importance of Kwanzaa to the “holiday season.” That sly euphemism compares a decades-old, race-exclusive, vainglorious contrivance invented by an insane gangster who tortured women and inspired terrorists to “good news of great joy that will be for all the people.” Perhaps we ought to spend less time celebrating history and more time learning it.