Every year, Kwanzaa is celebrated by some African-Americans from Dec. 26 to Jan. 1. And every year, the rumor that the creator of Kwanzaa, activist Dr. Maulana Karenga, had been a government informer arises. There is also rumors that the holiday, which is based on seven principles centered around African harvest festival traditions from various parts of West and Southeast Africa, was created by the FBI or the CIA and Black people in the U.S. are encouraged not to celebrate.
Although these rumors surface annually, there has yet to be a scientific look into them.
Despite constant speculation, there seems there is no solid evidence that Karenga, who is pro-reparations, was an informant for a U.S. government agency.
The 81-year-old Karenga is a professor and chair of the Department of Black Studies at California State University, Long Beach. He is also chair of the President’s Task Force on Multicultural Education and Campus Diversity at California State University, Long Beach.
In the 1960s, he became involved in the Black Power movement, joining the Congress of Racial Equality and Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. In 1965, Karenga and fellow activist Hakim Jamal co-founded the Black nationalist group US Organization, which became involved in violent clashes with the Black Panther Party by 1969.
In 1966, Karenga notably created Kwanzaa, modeling the holiday after the African “first fruit” traditions. The rituals of the holiday promote African traditions, including the “seven principles of African heritage.”
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In an interview with PBS‘ “Frontline,” Karenga was hesitant to be credited with creating Kwanzaa. Karenga claimed in the interview that Kwanzaa was a creation of the US Organization.
“Well, modesty prevents totally agreeing with that, and also, history demands that we see all great things are collectively produced. I take the initiative in it. Leadership is initiative, innovation and insight,” he said.
He added, “Hundreds of groups use the seven principles and Kawaida, which is my philosophy. Now, so we had a tremendous impact on the movement and we continue to have that. We have not only survived, we developed.”
Created by Karenga, kawaida (a Swahili word meaning “tradition” or “reason”) is the philosophy of the cultural nationalist theory and movement and is a synthesis of nationalist, pan-Africanist, and socialist ideologies, according to Encyclopedia.com.
In 1971, he was convicted of felony assault, torture, and false imprisonment of women, who were members of his US Organization. Karenga was imprisoned in California Men’s Colony until he received parole in 1975.
Karenga has been awarded two doctorates, one in Political Science in 1976 and one in Social Ethics in 1994.
In April 2022, in an interview with RealTalk: History as a Weapon with Dr. Sundiata Keita Cha-Jua spoke about the Black Power movement of the 1960s. The episode is entitled “Maulana Karenga Addresses the Murders of Black Panther Leaders,” Karenga says he was not involved, or ordered, the violence against Black power leaders such as members of the Black Panther Party. The interview was posted on the YouTube channel Black Power Media. “People have to stop being dishonest,” said Karenga. “People said character assassination, saying I was an agent…that was a lie.” According to Karenga, the rumors about him came about during a power struggle between his organization and the Black Panthers, over the Black Panthers wanting to be the leading group, he claimed.
Karenga did admit that he did work with the police and that many organizations did as a benefit for the community.
Still, some Black activists doubt Karenga’s denials.
“In the years since then, as an organizer for the All African People’s Revolutionary Party, I’ve learned through my work in the party the concrete history of Pan-Africanism thus destroying any impact from Karenga’s misinformation about our movement in his speech at USC,” wrote Ahjamu Umi in his blog “The Truth Challenge” in 2015. Umi is a revolutionary organizer with the All African People’s Revolutionary Party and liberation literature author.
Umi wrote that it is Karenga’s own history that leaves him with questions.
“In the years since, I’ve even made at least two visits to his Afro American Cultural Center in South Los Angeles, but I’d be lying if I said I still didn’t have concerns,” Umi admitted.
He continued, “The accusations against him for torturing African women in the US Organization and the fact he served prison time in the ’70s for those crimes makes that impossible to ignore. And I think it adds fuel to the accusations that Karenga was a police agent/informant. People who are accused of being police agents have a history of being killed. There are several people who we know now were innocent and sincere fighters for liberation who were killed because of the manipulation of the state to turn people against honest soldiers for justice.”
According to Umi, often times when people are falsely accused of being police agents, they are killed. So, would that mean that Karenga being alive and well he was indeed an agent? Still, the theory would have to rely on assumptions–something Umi stressed.
“So, when we are talking about police informants, we are really talking primarily about people who were in the movement organizations on their own when something happened that caused them to be recruited by the police agencies to work against the organizations. This is a critical point because if we are going to accuse people of being police informants, we must present the evidence e.g. what they did to become in entrapped by the police in the first place. There has to be a story to justify the accusation,” Umi pointed out.
But the Karenga situation is complicated because of the criminal charges that had been lodged against him.
“The accusations against Karenga are more difficult because of his confirmed history of abuse against women. Still, we have to continue to be careful with what we use as evidence. Most of what’s going around today is proof that Karenga, Elaine Brown, and others had meetings with state officials. These meetings are being offered as the primary proof of these people being informants,” Umi wrote.
However, Karenga has admitted to having worked with the police, not as an agent, but to improve relations between the police and the community.
Umi seems to still doubt Karenga’s explanation, but doesn’t outright conclude Karenga was working for the government against the movement.
“People like Karenga, hungry for what they perceived to be power and wanting to establish themselves at the top of the circle of African leadership, enthusiastically accepted these invitations to meet with these devils,” wrote Umi. “So, its not hard to explain why these meetings happened. Its a lot harder to assert that the meetings represented cooperation to destroy the movement. Was Karenga motivated by self interest and ego? Possibly/probably, but that’s much more likely than using those meetings to justify labeling him a police informant.”
“The David Feldman Show” explored in 2019 whether not Karenga was an informant, based on the charges made by Bruce A. Dixon, managing editor of The Black Agenda Report. And, according to Dixon, because he believes “betrayed several Black Panthers” by being an an informant, it is “impossible to celebrate the holiday from the man.”
Dixon, who said he never met Karenga, claimed Karenga’s legacy was “blessed” by the government. “Mr. Karenga has been bestowed upon us and blessed by the proper authorities,” Dixon, a former member of the Black Panther Party in Chicago, told Feldman. Dixon found it was suspicious that Karenga was arrested on the kidnapping and torture charges of women for which “he was given a four-year-sentence but only served one year” and then upon his release, “he was immediately hired as a tenure-tracked professor by the UC system.” UC refers to the University of California.
Dixon also outright called Karenga a “murderer.” Karenga’s group, US Organization, was often at odds with the Black Panthers and when Black Panther leaders Alprentice “Bunchy” Carter and John Huggins were murdered on the UCLA campus on January 17, 1969, many pointed the finger at member of the US Organization. And, there were calls that Karenga ordered the hit, something he still denies.
Others, besides Dixon, still accuse Karenga of being linked to the FBI.
“Evidence does suggest that Karenga and his organization were a priority for the FBI, successfully fomenting bad relations between the Panthers and US,” Keith A Mayes reportedly wrote in the book “Kwanzaa: Black Power and the Making of the African American Holiday Tradition,” as per The Focus.
Dr. Maulana Karenga, Facebook, https://www.facebook.com/unitybamn/photos/this-is-maulana-karenga-hes-a-professor-of-africana-studies-an-activist-and-an-a/1772242139526892/