Dr. Ivan Gladstone Van Sertima (1935 – 2009) was a Guyanese-born associate professor of Africana Studies at Rutgers University in New Jersey. He was best known for his work “They Came before Columbus,” which provided a pyramid of evidence to support the idea that ancient Africans were master shipbuilders who sailed from Africa to the Americas thousands of years before Spanish explorer Christopher Columbus, and that the Africans traded with the indigenous people, leaving lasting influences on their cultures. In one example, Van Sertima presents evidence that Emperor Abubakari of Mali used these “almadias” or longboats to make a trip to the Americas during the 1300s.
Van Sertima methodically demonstrates that these blacks were not slaves, but traders and priests who were honored and venerated by the Native Americans who built statues – Olmec heads- in their honor. In the closing of the book, he declaimed the notion of “discovery” by Columbus.
In 1987, Van Sertima testified before a United States congressional committee to oppose recognition of the 500th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ “discovery” of the Americas. He said, “You cannot really conceive of how insulting it is to Native Americans … to be told they were discovered.”