Sudarkasa, Niara 1938–

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Niara Sudarkasa 1938

University president

At a Glance


Niara Sudarkasa is the first woman president of Lincoln University, one of the oldest historically black institutions of higher learning in the United States. Lincoln boasts numerous illustrious graduates, including Thurgood Marshall, the first African-American to become a United States Supreme Court Justice; Nnamdi Azikiwe, the first president of Nigeria; Kwame Nkrumah, the first president of Ghana; and writer Langston Hughes. Sudarkasa seeks to foster among present students the same zeal that Lincolns past scholars have shown for bettering the human condition. As she told Essence, Unless a sense of service and duty is instilled, our upward mobility will only be measured by cars and styling.

Sudarkasa was born Gloria Marshall on August 14, 1938, in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. A precocious student, she enrolled in Fisk University in 1953 at the age of fifteen. In 1956 she transferred to Oberlin College, where she completed a degree in sociology the following year. Sudarkasa received a masters degree in anthropology from Columbia University in 1959 and a doctorate in anthropology at the same university in 1964. Upon graduation she took a teaching position at New York University, and she joined the faculty of the University of Michigan in 1967. There she gained notice for her field work in West Africa, concentrating on trade, migration, and the role of women in society. Sudarkasa adopted her African name during the 1970s; her first name, Niara, means woman of high purpose. In addition to fulfilling her duties as a professor of anthropology, Sudarkasa was also serving as associate vice-president of academic affairs at the University of Michigan by the time she was selected as the eleventh president of Lincoln University in 1987.

Sudarkasa told Rhoda E. McKinney of Ebony that to her the appointment to the 135-year-old university was the perfect meeting of scholar and institution. According to Essence, her impression was echoed by a member of Lincolns presidential search committee, who said at her inauguration, When we looked around to find the best man we could for this position, we discovered that he was a woman. Assuming the helm of an institution that admitted only male students during the first hundred years of the schools existence, Sudarkasa told Essence, I think that as a woman president, I bring an obvious maternal sideif you want to call it thata caring sense that I am here to help nurture and mold students in a more direct and involved way than I think a male president would.

At a Glance

Born Gloria Marshall, August 14, 1938, in Fort Lauderdale, FL; married John L. Clark (an inventor, sculptor, and contractor); children: Michael Eric. Education : Fisk University, 1953-56; Oberlin College, B.A., 1957; Columbia University, M.A., 1959, Ph.D., 1964.

New York University, New York City, assistant professor, 1964-67; University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, professor of anthropology, 1967-87, director of Center for Afro-American and African Studies, 1981-84, associate vice-president of academic affairs; Lincoln University, Lincoln University, PA, president, 1987. Member of board of directors, Ann Arbor Community Center; chair, State of Michigan Committee on Minorities, Women, and Handicappers in Higher Education, 1984.

Member: African Studies Association, American Anthropology Association (fellow), Association of Black Anthropologists, American Association for Higher Education.

Awards: Ford Foundation scholarship for early admission to college, 1953-57; John Hay Whitney Opportunity fellowship, 1959-60; Ford Foundation Foreign Area Training fellowship, 1960-63; Carnegie Foundation Study of New Nation fellowship, 1963-64; Social Science Research Council fellowship, 1973-74; senior Fulbright research scholarship, 1982-83; achievement awards, Links, Alpha Kappa Alpha, Zeta Phi Beta, Elks, City of Fort Lauderdale.

Addresses: Office University President, Lincoln University, Lincoln University, PA 19352.

Sudarkasa, whom some students refer to affectionately as Madame President, told Washington, I enjoy talking with the students because Im always astonished at where they are. For example, there are a lot of students on campus who are actively involved in religion. I find it interesting to talk with them about what that means in their lives. What comes through is that in the kind of society we live in, religion represents for them the surest alternative to drugs and other forms of degradation that are taking our childrens lives.

Ebony cited Sudarkasa among women of many firsts, pioneers charting their own courses of tradition, and Essence reported that Sudarkasa is suffusing Lincoln University with a new upbeat spirit. Sudarkasa reported to McKinney that she plans to insure that the Lincoln curriculum reflects global and intercultural influences, and hopes to provide Lincoln students with opportunities to discover their personal link with their African heritage. Sudarkasas own involvement with her heritage is reflected in the vast array of art and antiques from West Africa that she displays in the home she shares with her husband, John L. Clark, on Lincolns campus. Her son, Michael, who earned a law degree from Harvard University, is also personally involved with African issues, holding an internship with the African Development Bank on the Ivory Coast. Sudarkasas agenda for Lincoln also includes giving more attention to science, math, and engineering to insure that students can compete on the very cutting edge. As she told Essence, When people talk about the top small liberal-arts colleges in the country, I want Lincoln to be one of the schools mentioned.


Ebony, February 1988.

Essence, May 1989; November 1991.

Marjorie Burgess