In Memoriam: Niara Sudarkasa, 1938-2019

Niara Sudarkasa, long-time faculty member at the University of Michigan and the former president of Lincoln University of Pennsylvania, died late last month. She was 80 years old.

A native of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Dr. Sudarkasa was given the name Gloria Albertha Marshall at birth. At the age of 14 she enrolled at historically Black Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee. She transferred to Oberlin College in Ohio and earned a bachelor’s degree in both anthropology and English. She went on to earn a master’s degree in anthropology and a Ph.D. in Yoruba language and culture from Columbia University in New York City.

While pursuing her doctorate at Columbia, Dr. Sudarkasas was the first African American woman to teach at the university. She joined the faculty at New York University in 1964 as an assistant professor of anthropology. In 1969, Dr. Sudarkasa joined the faculty at the University of Michigan. She was the first tenured African American faculty member at the university. During her 17-year career at the University of Michigan, she served as director of the Center for Afroamerican and African Studies. She was the first woman to hold the position.

In 1986, Dr. Sudarkasa was appointed the eleventh president of historically Black Lincoln University in Pennsylvania. She was the first woman president of the university. She served as president for 12 years.

After leaving Lincoln University, Dr. Sudarkasa returning to her hometown of Fort Lauderdale and served as a Distinguished Scholar in Residence at the African American Research Library and Cultural Center. Dr. Sudarkasa was the author of several books including The Strength of Our Mothers: African & African American Women & Families (African World Press, 1997).

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