November 28, 2020
A Day of Thanks in the
African-American Culture
Umoja Karamu is a celebration of unity within the African-American family, community, and nation. The celebration occurs on the fourth Sunday in November and many African American families celebrate this day as an alternative to the national Thanksgiving Day holiday. Umoja Karamu is a Swahili term meaning "unity feast" and its tradition goes back centuries. Many African-American churches hold services as well for African-American members to celebrate Umoja Karamu. The feast and ceremony are also part of multicultural programs on university campuses. Many African-American student unions sponsor such events in November or as part of annual Kwanzaa celebrations since Umoja Karamu may also be observed during Kwanzaa celebrations in late December.

In 1971, Dr. Edward Simms Jr. of the Temple of the Black Messiah in Philadelphia developed Umoja Karamu to celebrate the African-American family and home. Dr. Simms defined the purpose of Umoja Karamu as an effort to inject new meaning and solidarity into the Black Family through ceremony and symbolism. The Temple of the Black Messiah in Washington, D.C, established the celebration date and other cities, including Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Chicago, adopted this day to celebrate the unity feast.
The feast itself is based on five symbolic colors: black, white, red, green, and gold/orange, which represent five historical periods in African-American history. Black represents the African-American family strength before slavery; white symbolizes the effects of slavery on black families; red stands for emancipation from slavery; green signifies the struggle for civil rights and equality; and gold or orange signals the African-American family's hope for the future.
In honor of each one of the five historical periods and in reference to the colors for each one of them, the feast includes black-eyed peas for black, rice for white, tomatoes for red, collard greens for green and sweet potatoes and corn for orange/gold.

The meal begins with a prayer and libation, an African tradition that includes pouring a drink to honor ancestors. Then one of the participants in the celebration reads narratives based on each historical period. While reading, the meals that represent each of these historical periods start going around. Drums playing in the background intensify the mood. The participants keep passing the meals so everyone in the celebration can taste and honor the unity feast. When the feast is over, the elderly share words of wisdom and encouragement to help the young see the future with optimism. At the end of Umoja Karamu, any leftovers are for the poor and homeless in the community.
Umoja Karamu celebrates family members’ commitment to one another and it is a way for African American families to celebrate common history, ethnic experiences and cultural heritage. It is a very vibrant celebration of giving thanks while honoring the roots and history of the African American family, and it is growing in popularity across the nation.

#DEIatCTI #umojakaramu #africanamericanhistory #unityfeast

Please watch:
Umoja Karamu Celebration – video length 3.35

Suggested Readings:
·      Anyike, James C. African American Holidays: A Historical Research and Resource Guide to Cultural Celebrations. Chicago: Popular Truth, 1991.
·      Barashango, Ishakamusa. African People and European Holidays: A Mental Genocide, Book 1. Washington, DC: IVth Dynasty Publishing Company, 1979.
·      Eklof, Barbara. For Every Season: The Complete Guide to African American Celebrations, Traditional to Contemporary. New York: HarperCollins, 1997.
·      African-American Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations, 1st ed. © Omnigraphics, Inc. 2007