After learning of the death of the eminent scholar, Dr. Ivan Van Sertima, my heart became saddened, but my mind became encouraged. Why? Because in this lifetime, we had the opportunity to receive firsthand hidden truths about African and American history from one of the worlds greatest living academicians, Dr. Van Sertima. His brilliance, courage and outstanding scholarship were gifts to African people in particular and humanity in general.
After receiving the book, "They Came Before Columbus", as a gift from my uncle, Atty. Legrand H. Clegg II, I became interested in the African colonization of and contributions to the Americas. I was especially drawn to the ancient Olmec civilization of Mexico. As a tribute to Dr. Van Sertima, I have included below an article entitled, "Before Columbus: Black Explorers of the New World", which was written by Atty.Clegg in October 2003, and appeared in a number of newspapers and magazines across the nation at that time.
"Before Columbus: Black Explorers of the New World"
by Atty. Legrand H. Clegg II
Every October Americans pause to celebrate Columbus Day. Children are taught that the Italian navigator discovered America. Parades are held in his honor and tributes tell of his skill, courage and perseverance.
Historians, archeologists, anthropologists and other scientists and scholars now know that Columbus did not discover America. Not only were native Americans present when he reached the New World, but also Africans, Asians and Europeans, among others, had been sailing to the Americas thousands of years before Columbus ventured across the Atlantic.
Of the various people who reached America before Columbus, Black Africans appear to have made the most contacts and to have had the greatest impact. During the 19th and 20th centuries, several scholars wrote books and articles about this subject and urged the academic establishment to change primary and secondary curricula across the country to reflect the great contributions of African people to early America. Unfortunately, such pleas fell on deaf ears; so again this October our children are being taught the myth that Columbus discovered America.
In August of this year, a group of 13 African Americans participated in a study-tour of numerous Mexican archeological sites. Led by the renowned Black historian and architect, Mathu Otir, and two Mexican guides, we visited numerous museums, temples, pyramids and cities, most of which reflected the genius of the native American Mayas and Aztecs. Toward the end of the tour, in southern Mexico, we began to see the remains of an ancient Black presence.
Evidence of the early Africans is widespread and varied. Dozens of majestic stone heads have been found at ancient sacred sites, such as La Venta and Tres Zapotes in southern Mexico (See photograph). Ranging up to 9 feet and 4 inches in height, with a circumference of 22 feet, and weighing 30 to 40 tons, these colossal statues depict helmeted Black men with large eyes, broad fleshy noses and full lips. They appear to represent priest-kings who ruled vast territories in the ancient New World from provinces near the Gulf of Mexico.
In the holy city of La Venta, dating back to at least 1500 BC, four of these large stone heads were discovered on a ceremonial platform featuring a miniature step pyramid and a conical pyramid - the earliest of such monuments to appear in the Americas.
Other art-work also serves as evidence of Africans in America before Columbus. For years the late art historian, Alexander Von Wuthenau, collected ancient clay figurines that provide clues regarding the diversity of America's pre-Columbian population. His remarkable African collection depicts priests, chiefs, dancers, wrestlers, drummers, beautiful women and stately men - a collage of Black people who occupied every stratum of society from Mexico to South America.
Negroid skulls and skeletons have also been found throughout the New World. Polish professor Andrzej Wiercinski has revealed the discovery of African skulls at Olmec sites in Tlatilco, Cerro de las Mesas and Monte Alban. Furthermore, very ancient African skeletons have been unearth in California, Mexico, Central and South America.
The best evidence of the Black presence in America before Columbus comes from the pen of the "great discoverer" himself. In his Journal of the Second Voyage, Columbus reported that when he reached Haiti the native Americans told him that black-skinned people had come from the south and southeast in boats, trading in gold-tipped medal spears. At least a dozen other European explorers, including Vasco Nunez de Balboa, also reported seeing or hearing of "Negroes" when they reached the New World.
Nicholas Leon, an eminent Mexican authority, recorded the oral traditions of his people. Some of them reported that "the oldest inhabitants of Mexico were blacks[T]he existence of blacks and giants is commonly believed by nearly all the races of our sail and in their various language they had words to designate them."
Early Mexican scholars were convinced that the impact of the Black explorers on the New World was profound and enduring. One author, J.A. Villacorta, has written: "Any way you view it, Mexican civilization had its origin in Africa." Modern excavations throughout Latin America appear to confirm Villacorta's conclusions.
The Olmec civilization, which appears to have been of African origin or to have been dominated by Africans, was the Mother Culture of Mexico. Of this, Michael Coe, the leading American historian on Mexico, has written that, "there is not the slightest doubt that all later civilizations in [Mexico and Central America], rest ultimately on an Olmec base."
Ivan Van Sertima, the foremost authority on the African presence in ancient America, has built a strong case demonstrating that many Olmec cultural traits were of African origin: "A study of the Olmec civilization reveals elements that so closely parallel ritual traits and techniques in the Egypto-Nubian world of the same period that it is difficult to maintain [that] all these are due to mere coincidence." Other scholars believe that Africans introduced a calendar, writing, pyramid and tomb construction, mummification, as well as certain political systems and religious traditions to the native Americans.
Who were the Africans who sailed to America before Columbus? Indian scholar R.A. Jairazbhoy states that the earliest settlers were Ancient Egyptians led by King Ramesis III, during the 19th dynasty. Van Sertima also believes that most of the explorers sailed from Egypt, but during the much later 25th dynasty. Many other scholars insist that the navigators came from West African nations, such as Ghana, Mali and Songhay
Whoever these Black people were, they most certainly sailed to America in ancient and medieval times and left a profound imprint on New World soil. As Jairazbhoy notes: "The black began his career in America not as slave but as master."
Our Mexican guides agreed. As we ended our tour and prepared to return to the U.S., one of them proclaimed: "I would like to thank the African people for bringing civilization to the New World." It is high time for the American media and academic establishment to admit the same.