Fighting for US: Maulana Karenga, the US Organization, and Black Cultural Nationalism

Fighting for US: Maulana Karenga, the US Organization, and Black Cultural Nationalism

Fighting for US: Maulana Karenga, the US Organization, and Black Cultural Nationalism

Fighting for US: Maulana Karenga, the US Organization, and Black Cultural Nationalism


In spite of the ever-growing popularity of Kwanzaa, the story of the influential Black nationalist organization behind the holiday has never been told. Fighting for Us explores the fascinating history of the US Organization, a Black nationalist group based in California that played a leading role in Black Power politics and culture during the late 1960s and early '70s whose influence is still felt today. Advocates of Afrocentric renewal, US unleashed creative and intellectual passions that continue to fuel debate and controversy among scholars and students of the Black Power movement.

Founded in 1965 by Maulana Karenga, US established an extensive network of alliances with a diverse body of activists, artists and organizations throughout the United States for the purpose of bringing about an African American cultural revolution. Fighting for US presents the first historical examination of US' philosophy, internal dynamics, political activism and influence on African American art, making an elaborate use of oral history interviews, organizational archives, Federal Bureau of Investigation files, newspaper accounts, and other primary sources of the period.

This book also sheds light on factors contributing to the organization's decline in the early '70s- ;government repression, authoritarianism, sexism, and elitist vanguard politics. Previous scholarship about US has been shaped by a war of words associated with a feud between US and the Black Panther Party that gave way to a series of violent and deadly clashes in Los Angeles. Venturing beyond the lingering rhetoric of rivalry, this book illuminates the ideological similarities and differences between US's "cultural" nationalism and the Black Panther Party's "revolutionary" nationalism. Today, US's emphasis on culture has endured as evidenced by the popularity of Kwanzaa and the Afrocentrism in Black art and popular media. Engaging and original, Fighting for US will be the definitive work on Maulana Karenga, the US organization, and Black cultural nationalism in America.


I first talked with Maulana Karenga in 1966, when I conducted a long interview with him for a Los Angeles Free Press article. He was already widely known in the Los Angeles area as an influential young Black nationalist. At ucla, where he was a graduate student in African linguistics and I was an undergraduate history major, his powerful orations, peppered with sardonic humor, always drew crowds. He had created a tightly organized and loyal group of followers called US—“Anywhere we are, us is.” I had been suspicious of those Black nationalists who stood on the sidelines of the southern freedom struggle during the first half of the 1960s, but I was impressed that Karenga had emerged as an effective leader in post-Watts rebellion Los Angeles. At a time of uncertainty and disorganization in the African-American freedom struggle, Karenga’s us exhibited confidence and discipline.

Karenga impressed me with his ability to bring new vitality to traditional Black nationalism. He adapted ideas drawn from African cultures and political movements, but his public statements conveyed an appealing originality and exceptional intelligence I looked forward to meeting him when I arrived for the interview at the office of a group called Self-Leadership for all Nationalities Today or slant, headed by Karenga’s friend Tommy Jacquette. There was an élan associated with us that was immediately apparent. Members wore African-style green bubas and used Kiswahili terms. in a way similar to Nation of Islam members, they took pride in their appearance and often prefaced their remarks by deferring to the words of Maulana, their Master Teacher. the indications that us had formed a leadership cult worried me, but Karenga himself was reassuringly modest, eager to express his admiration for other leaders, such as Malcolm X, and for organizations such as the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). I learned that he had tried without . . .

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