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Historian-Anthropologist Ivan Van Sertima Dies at 74.

Shantella Y. Sherman | 6/4/2009, 7:38 a.m.

Ivan Van Sertima, 74, a celebrated historian, linguist and anthropologist died on Mon. May 25. The cause of death has not been disclosed. Known for changing existing canons of historical theory that positioned Africans and those of African descent as inferior to Europeans, Van Sertima found evidence of an extensive African presence in Europe and the Americas since the beginning of time.

Van Sertima was born a British citizen, under colonized occupation, in Kitty Village, Guyana in 1935. Little is known of his upbringing beyond his father Frank Obermuller, a trade union leader, and Van Sertima€s penchant for creative writing and poetry as a grammar school student. He attended college in Europe and graduated from the University of London in 1969 with a specialty in African languages and literature from its School of Oriental and African Studies.

The Guyana Cultural Association reported that Van Sertima worked for several years in Great Britain as a broadcast journalist, reporting weekly segments to the Caribbean and Africa. In addition, Van Sertima frequently traveled to Africa and the Caribbean where he conducted fieldwork that included the compilation of a dictionary of Swahili legal terms. In 1970, Van Sertima immigrated to the United States, where he entered Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J., for graduate work, and later embarked upon a 30-year teaching career at the university.

Van Sertima was the editor of the Journal of African Civilization and author of numerous books, many of which defied mainstream interpretations of Africans and insisted Egyptians as dark and brown-skinned Africans. His 1976 work, €They Came Before Columbus,€ gained bestseller status and remains a staple of African American historical discourse.

Criticized for romanticizing Africa and her people, Van Sertima approached cultural inquiries of various nations from an African perspective. This included framing Greek, Roman, and Central and South American cultures as extensions of African cultures, particularly in the fields of science, medicine, mathematics, navigation, and metallurgy. Van Sertima€s works simultaneously noted the systematic destruction of higher African learning through its elitist structure, which proved vulnerable to attacks from outsiders.

Van Sertima€s works include: €They Came Before Columbus€ (1976), €Blacks in Science: Ancient and Modern€ (1983), €Black Women in Antiquity€ (1984), €The African Presence in Early America€ (1987), €The African Presence in Early Europe€ (1985), and €Egypt Revisited€ (1989).

Scholars and lay historians from around the country agree that Van Sertima€s contribution to world history was far-reaching and monumental. They also agree that while he will be missed, Van Sertima€s legacy will live on due to the sheer bounty of his work.

€This is a man who went to the U.S. Congress and said, we need to get Columbus out of our national consciousness for €discovering€ America,€ said Charles Franklin, 27, a graduate student at Trinity College in Northwest. €Any serious student of African or African American Studies is grieving the loss of Van Sertima because we know how magnificent and awkward it is to present an opposing, pro-African position to European and mainstream American scholars.€

Condolences may be sent to his wife: Jacqueline Van Sertima, 347 Felton Avenue, Highland Park, N.J. 08904 or info@journalofafricancivilizations.com.