By: Runoko Rashidi

The first civilization of ancient America is called the Olmec. It was located along the Mexican Gulf Coast and began more than three thousand years ago.

The most significant and widely acknowledged sculptural representations of African people in the Western Hemisphere (the "New World") were sculpted by the Olmecs.

The Olmec developed the first civilization of the Americas. At least seventeen monumental basalt stone heads, each weighing ten to forty tons, have been unearthed in Olmec sites along the Mexican Gulf Coast. One of the first European-American scientists to comment on the Olmec heads, archaeologist Mathew Stirling, described their facial features as "amazingly Negroid."

Although major aspects of Olmec culture and history remain vague, enough has been recovered to demonstrate a significant African presence in the Americas many centuries before the advent of the trans-Atlantic slave trade.

Some scientists have even concluded that the Olmecs may have originally been an African settler-colony. Others are convinced that the African presence among the Olmecs was confined to a small and highly-influential elite community.

Native legends of the Americas abound with the exploits of early Black people. In the Southwest Indian story of the Emergence, a story that is as important in the region as the Book of Genesis is to Christians, the First World is called the Black World!

During his third voyage, Columbus recorded that when he reached Haiti the resident population informed him that Black men from the south and southeast had preceded him to the island. In 1513, Balboa found a colony of Black men on his arrival in Darien, Panama.

All of these facts, buttressed by skeletons and sculptures, make it clear that African people had a profound presence and influence in pre-Columbian America.