Kwanzaa was conceived in 1966 by Maulana Karenga, who launched the holiday in the midst of the Black Power movement and a year after the Watts riots tore open the wounds of racial division in Los Angeles. (Karenga later served time in prison in an assault case related to his opposition to the Black Panthers. After being released from prison, Karenga became an African-studies professor at California State University at Long Beach.) According to The Complete Kwanzaa by Dorothy Winbush Riley, Karenga said he started Kwanzaa as “a necessary minimum set of principles by which Black people must live in order to begin to rescue and reconstruct our history and lives.” The holiday is celebrated from Dec. 26 through Jan. 1 every year. Estimates of the number of Americans who celebrate Kwanzaa vary widely, with some figures in the millions.
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