December 22, 2017 - Vol. 1, Issue 15
The Relevancy of the Black Radical Tradition 9
Maulana Karenga
Lezli Baskerville
Paul Hill
Jessica B. Harris
In Kwanzaa: Black Power and the Making of the African-American Black Holiday Tradition, Keith A. Mayes states of Kwanzaa’s authenticity: “The ‘making’ of Kwanzaa—the black American synthetic invention of African cultural practices, of African languages, of African history, and of African peoples—represents more than an expansion of black calendar politics, or a growing African American holiday tradition, but an attempt to create new knowledge through old rituals practices, using African cultural formations as sites of black protest…what we’ve come to know as Black Power—strident comments against white oppression, organizational vibrancy at the local level, and closing ranks around ideas of blackness.” 1

It is this creation of knowledge, through the regeneration of tradition, that social activist and Africana scholar Maulana Karenga acknowledges as a fundamental reason for why he founded the Kwanzaa holiday in 1966: “ Now, people often say, why did you create Kwanzaa? I created it for three basic reasons, one to reaffirm the fact that we're an African people…We must say we are African people, okay. So Kwanzaa gives us a time to do that…we've got a discourse, a conversation around Africa. Second, I created it to give us a time as African people all over the world to come together, reaffirm the bonds between us and meditate on the meaning and awesome responsibility of being African in the world…And finally, of course, as I said… I created Kwanzaa in order to introduce and reaffirm the importance of community and values, especially Nguzo Saba, the seven principles.” [Maulana Karenga, THMDA 1.4.1]. 2

Mayes speaks to the importance of ritual in the Kwanzaa holiday, in that “The post-1966 period in black protest is defined primarily by ‘ritual,’” and, “believability and the process of convincing one of a converted blackness would lie in ritual creation and performance which would come to thoroughly define the decade of 1966 to 1976 in black protest. Black Power ritual was a variegated cultural and political enterprise with Kwanzaa being one of several incarnations. Manifesting “African-ness” was a ritualized performance designed to recapture a previously lost way of being and acting “black” or “African” in the world. Thus, the mere fact that “African-ness” had to be recaptured, re-donnned, re-inculcated, and re-received meant that “Africa” at the level of geography, identity and consciousness had to be invented or re-invented by black Americans for black Americans. Kwanzaa as both ritual and holiday speaks profoundly to this quest for cultural recovery.” 3

In her interview with The HistoryMakers, attorney and education advocate Lezli Baskerville alludes to this quest of cultural recovery, including the embracement of her African heritage, in her practice of Kwanzaa: “ We started celebrating Kwanzaa long before Kwanzaa became common in most households. We talked about the Nguzo Saba, the seven principles, that they talk about relative to Kwanzaa, but it’s broader, the philosophy taught early on by Maulana Karenga . It was so much a part of my grounding, although no one said to me at any point in life; it was a part of who I was, it was what was evidenced in our household with my mom and my dad. And so, I joined Committee for Unified Newark, and worked in the community, continued to prod social justice and expanding opportunities. But, I did lose my white friends who just couldn’t embrace this person who had transformed, no less loving, no less caring, no less friendly, but now I had different priorities” 4 [Lezli Baskerville, THMDA 1.2.9]. In Black Power and the American People: Culture and Identity in the Twentieth Century, Rafael Torruba notes of this trend of reclaiming the past: “The 1960s witnessed a surge in cultural militancy initially epitomized by a desire to reclaim the African American historical record. In its reclamation of the African American past, the Black Power movement was not merely reciting inspiring recollections. It was redefining history for a new generation. In the process, historical events and figures gained mythic dimensions, an air of legend which had immense resonance for the American cultural landscape and the legacy of Black Power in America.” 5

Civic leader and author Paul Hill describes the importance of acknowledging and reclaiming African American history for the larger community: “Most of our history within America has been under enslavement, sharecropping, segregation, de jure, not de facto, so only a short period of time that we could consider ourselves in a mode of becoming free, so a lot of that history of what we were relative to strength is part of that 400 years, ‘cause there was strength and there was resistance as part of that that’s important but also looking at prior to enslavement relative to our African experience. So, we have always as a family and as a community organization, have seen that as being very important, to look at both sides of our African American experience and our African experience, so we’ve integrated that within our child daycare curriculum, within all of our curriculum, the importance of Kwanzaa, and being one of the founders of the Greater Cleveland Kwanzaa Alliance that existed for a number of years” 6 [Paul Hill, THMDA 1.5.7].

Perhaps now the importance of Kwanzaa is no longer in its practice, nor in its legacy of cultural reclamation. Rather, the importance is one of preservation of Afrocentric rituals in the face of forced and oppressive cultural hegemony, where wishing “Merry Christmas” is the preconceived standard. Of the need to preserve traditions like Kwanzaa, Maulana Karenga reminds us: “Rituals reinforce how we think, how we feel, how we understand ourselves, how we assert ourselves. People need that…I'm very impressed with how black people have embraced this, all over the world, and see it, as not only central, value-orientation and culture grounding for themselves, but pass it on to their children as a legacy, worthy of being embraced and practiced" 7 [Maulana Karenga, THMDA 1.4.3].

Reflecting on the legacy of Kwanzaa, culinary historian Jessica B. Harris notes: “ I think Kwanzaa grows in importance if you have children. Kwanzaa is a wonderful teaching tool for children, for young adults, for people growing up in any kind of household--Christian, Islamic, atheist. It allows you to know where you've been. It allows you to understand about honoring ancestors. It's all about talking about those backs that brought you over” 8 [Jessica B. Harris, THMDA 1.7.3].
"We Won that Battle"
The HistoryMakers Celebrates Arthur Fletcher 10

Born on this very day in 1924, in Phoenix, Arizona, civil rights champion Arthur Fletcher is often referred to as the father of affirmative action. He earned a Purple Heart for his service in World War II after high school, and eventually went on to obtain his Ph.D. in education. In 1950, he played for the Los Angeles Rams football team, and later became the first African American to ever play for the Baltimore Colts, after which he entered into politics.

However, what Fletcher is perhaps most well known for, is his tenure at the U.S. Department of Labor, where he was instrumental in the Revised Philadelphia Plan, which enforced equal employment and business opportunities for minorities. Fletcher passed away in 2005, and the fight for the preservation of affirmative action is ongoing. Yet, his legacy in this realm remains an important reminder of strides made.

Of his accomplishments, Fletcher stated in his interview: "A legacy is as worthless as the words on a piece of paper if people don't know how to put that legacy to work to get on with the job. And I have serious problems with people who are just satisfied with a legacy. I think you need to go back when you hear that phrase; if you don't know your history, you're gonna live it again. I insist that you use your history to write a new legacy and to get on with what must be done to continue the war, what we've won in terms of the Civil Rights Movement. If you look at a war, a war consists of battles. Who won this battle, that battle and the other one, and finally, who won the war. Well, achieving economic equity is, is a war that isn't going anywhere (laughter). It isn't going anywhere. So you have to know then and since you understand that government creates the culture. In order to change that culture, we had to change the law...we won that battle" 11
[Arthur Fletcher, THMDA 1.7.8].
This week, 19 new interviews were added to The HistoryMakers Digital Archive:
T.J. Anderson

Music composer T.J. Anderson (1928 - ) was a leading composers of the twentieth century. He composed over eighty works, including operas, symphonies, choral pieces, chamber music and band music, and was the recipient of numerous honors, including seven honorary doctorates.
Janie Bradford

Songwriter Janie Bradford (1939 - ) was a songwriter at Motown Records for over twenty-five years.
Toni-Marie Montgomery

Music professor and pianist Toni-Marie Montgomery (1956 - ) was the first African American and first female dean of Northwestern University Henry and Leigh Bienen School of Music.
Rodney Reed

Educator Rodney Reed (1932 - ) served on the faculty of the University of California, Berkeley Graduate School of Education, and as dean of the Pennsylvania State University College of Education. In 2010 he was elected as Grand Sire Archon of the Boule.
The Honorable Yvette McGee Brown

State supreme court judge The Honorable Yvette McGee Brown (1960 - ) was the first African American woman to serve on the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas and the Supreme Court of Ohio. She also founded the Center for Child and Family Advocacy at Columbus Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio.
The Honorable Cardiss Collins

U.S. congresswoman The Honorable Cardiss Collins (1931 - 2013 ) served for eleven terms in the U.S. House of Representatives, where she helped pass laws that fought discrimination, enforced gender equity, and reformed child care.
Roger Ferguson

Economist and lawyer Roger Ferguson (1951 - ) was the president and chief executive officer of the TIAA-CREF and served as vice chairman of the Federal Reserve System.
Kenneth C. Frazier

Pharmaceutical executive, lawyer, and corporate general counsel Kenneth C. Frazier (1954 - ) was the first African American to serve as CEO of a major pharmaceutical company and was known for his success in corporate law.
Robin Wilson

Interior designer Robin Wilson (1969 - ) was the founder of Robin Wilson Home, the author of, "Kennedy Green House," and a noted designer of eco-friendly residences.
Earl Stafford

Entrepreneur Earl Stafford (1948 - ) was the founder of UNITECH and The Stafford Foundation. He organized the Peoples Inaugural Project, which allowed more than 400 disadvantaged individuals to participate in President Barack Obama’s first inauguration.
Leona Barr-Davenport

Corporate chief executive Leona Barr-Davenport (1957 - ) was the president and CEO of the Atlanta Business League, an organization that served as an advocate for African American businesses in Metro Atlanta.
Dr. James Rosser, Jr.

Hospital chief executive and medical professor Dr. James Rosser, Jr. (1954 - ) served as the chief of minimally invasive surgery and director of the Advanced Medical Technology Institute at the Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City.
Dr. Asa Yancey, Sr.

Surgeon, medical professor, and medical director Dr. Asa Yancey, Sr. (1916 - 2013 ) served as the medical director of Grady Memorial Hospital and dean at the Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta, Georgia. He also created the first accredited surgical training program for black doctors in Georgia.

Sidney Green

Basketball player and college basketball coach Sidney Green (1961 - ) played in the NBA for ten years. After retirement, he head-coached several college teams before being appointed ambassador for the Chicago Bulls.
Clarice Dibble Walker

Social work researcher Clarice Dibble Walker (1936 - ) was known for her research on socio-cultural factors involving children and families in urban environments.
Chrystine Ramsey Shack

Education executive and civic leader Chrystine Ramsey Shack (1926 - 2010 ) was a member of the Project Matterhorn team at the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory and has served in several executive positions for the national organization, The Girl Friends, Inc.
Kojo Kamau

Photographer Kojo Kamau (1939 - 2016 ) opened the Kojo Photo Art Studio in 1978 and founded the Art for Community Expression (ACE) non-profit in 1979.
Homer Bryant

Dancer and dance instructor Homer Bryant (1950 - ) performed with the Dance Theater of Harlem and founded the Chicago Multi-Cultural Dance Center.

Sister Mary Alice Chineworth

Teacher and nun Sister Mary Alice Chineworth (1917 - 2017 ) was a member and former superior general of the Order of the Oblate Sisters of Providence, the oldest religious order for black women. An educator for more than thirty years, Chineworth was profiled in the book, "A Wealth of Wisdom: Legendary African American Elders Speak."

1. Keith A. Mayes, Kwanzaa: Black Power and the Making of the African-American Black Holiday Tradition. Taylor and Francis, 2009.

2. Maulana Karenga (The HistoryMakers A2002.207), interviewed by Larry Crowe, November 18, 2002, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 4, story 1, Maulana Karenga details how he created Kwanzaa

3. 1. Keith A. Mayes, Kwanzaa: Black Power and the Making of the African-American Black Holiday Tradition. Taylor and Francis, 2009.

4. Lezli Baskerville (The HistoryMakers A2006.130), interviewed by Robert Hayden, November 6, 2006, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 2, story 9, Lezli Baskerville remembers embracing her African heritage

5. Rafael Torruba, Black Power and the American People: Culture and Identity in the Twentieth Century. I.B. Tauris, September 14, 2016.

6. Paul Hill (The HistoryMakers A2004.025), interviewed by Regennia Williams, March 17, 2004, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 5, story 7, Paul Hill describes the importance of knowing African American history
7. Maulana Karenga (The HistoryMakers A2002.207), interviewed by Larry Crowe, November 18, 2002, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 4, story 3, Maulana Karenga discusses the problems posed by the recent creation of Kwanzaa

8. Jessica B. Harris (The HistoryMakers A2004.133), interviewed by Larry Crowe, August 18, 2004, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 7, story 3, Jessica B. Harris talks about the motivation for her book 'A Kwanzaa Keepsake'

11. Arthur Fletcher (The HistoryMakers A2003.111), interviewed by Julieanna L. Richardson, May 29, 2003, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 6, story 7, Arthur Fletcher stresses the importance of continued progress in diversity and affirmative action
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