Sister Makinya Sibeko-Kouate, Queen Mother of Kwanzaa, 90


Sister Makinya Sibeko-Kouate, a popularize of Kwanzaa, educator and radio host, died on Feb. 4 at the age of 90.

Born on July 1 to Turner Smith and Willette Edythe Parker Smith in San Leandro, California, on July 1, 1926, her parents’ only child. Named Harriet Smith, she grew up in South Berkeley and attended Berkeley Public Schools.

Fourth generation of a pioneering African-American family, descendants from Madagascar and Tanzania— her more recent ancestors were freed from Virginian slavery and migrated to California before the Civil War.

Her maternal grandfather, Theodore Parker, was a leader in the early African-American labor union movement. Her great-grandfather, Edward West Parker Sr., was a member of the national Colored Convention Movement, which was a leader in the fight for African-American rights in the late 19th Century.

Her great-grandfather, Captain William Henry Galt, was an officer in the Sacramento Zouaves, an African-American militia unit that worked in the successful effort to keep California out of the Confederacy before and during the Civil War years.

Sister Makinya proudly followed in the tradition of her freedom-fighting ancestors.

Her great-grandmother started the Daughters of Coelanth, a companion organization to the Masonic Order founded by her great-grandfather Edward West Parker Sr.

As chairwoman of the YWCA, Western States, she attended the National Convention on its 100th anniversary. She was honored in Berkeley by the UN Commission on the Status of Women as a “Global Community Visionary.”

Sister Makinya taught piano at age 13 and also performed with a 24 Grand Piano Ensemble for the 1939-1940 World’s Fair at Treasure Island. At 16, having studied aerodynamics, she enlisted in WWII, “bringing airplanes in on a beam.” She one of the first air traffic controllers, stationed in Alameda.

Married in 1946 at 19, he and her husband were avid golfers. In the 1950s, under the tutelage of Barney Hillburn, first Black director of HUD, she later became the first woman manager of a 527-unit housing project.

She was a social reporter for California Voice, the oldest Black newspaper in California.  In the early-1950s, she attended San Francisco Teachers Normal College, which later became San Francisco State. She graduated with honors and a teaching credential.

In 1965, she attended Merritt College, studying business administration and real estate. As the first Black Student Body President in the Peralta Community College District, she developed the first Black Studies Department in 1966.

As student body president, she attended a conference where she met Maulana Karenga and was given a mimeographed sheet of paper with ideas on a new Black holiday called Kwanzaa.

She hosted the first Community Kwanzaa in her home in 1967.

Taking Kwanzaa around world, Sister Makinya traveled to 36 American states and 13 African nations to share her knowledge. She introduced community Kwanzaa celebrations to communities the USA, Europe, Africa and Mexico.

As an educator, she taught students in every grade from nursery school to post-graduate from 1985-2005.  From 1985-1995, she hosted an interview program on KPFA, 94.1 FM, called “Face the Day.”

Sister Makinya was made Queen Mother of Kwanzaa in December 2015 and posthumously by Harambee Connection Media Network in February 2017.  

A community celebration will be held at a later date.


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