African American History Museum Director Dr. Lonnie Bunch chosen to lead nation’s premiere repository of American history.
Dr. Lonnie G. Bunch, III, who rose to fame as the founding director of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, was recently appointed Secretary (Executive Director) of its parent organization, the Smithsonian Institution.
The Smithsonian Institution is the world’s largest museum, education, and research complex, dedicated to “preserving our American heritage, discovering new knowledge, and sharing our resources with the world.” It was founded in 1846 with funds from the Englishman James Smithson (1765–1829) as “an establishment for the increase and diffusion of knowledge.”
Today the Smithsonian comprises a wide range of museums and educational facilities, ranging from the Air and Space Museum and the African Art Museum to the National Zoo and National Portrait Gallery. In addition to the NMAAHC, it operates ten other museums and galleries on the National Mall, six museums and the National Zoo elsewhere in and around Washington, nine research centers, and two facilities—the American Indian Museum in the old Custom House and the Cooper Hewitt Museum—in New York City. (For a complete list, please visit www.si.edu/museums.)
Dr. Bunch was named to lead the NMAAHC—the fulfillment of a century-old dream—before it even became a reality. He oversaw the public and private fundraising and the design and construction of the renowned facility on the Washington Mall, and since its opening has built the institution into one of the nation’s most popular, in-demand national treasures. In fact, the waiting time for admission has often ranged up to six months, with even longtime members required to reserve a spot in advance.
As the first African American to lead the historic Smithsonian Institution, Dr. Bunch is well aware of both the historic nature of his appointment and the challenges ahead of him.
In a public letter to NMAAHC members, he wrote, “My goal is to fulfill the promise of the Smithsonian to help America better understand the challenges of the 21st century. I can only do this because I know that I’m leaving this Museum—our Museum—in your capable hands.”
The National Museum of African American History and Culture is dedicated to ensuring the African American experience would take its rightful place in our national memory. Not only does it contain the artifacts and objects that tell the story of that experience from long before the colonies won independence from Great Britain; the museum also delves deeply into the stories and lives of unsung or underrecognized black Americans without whom the United States would not exist in its present form.
Among the collections are Harriet Tubman’s hymnal; Nat Turner’s Bible; a South Carolina plantation slave cabin; a guard tower from the notorious Angola Prison; Michael Jackson’s fedora; the lunch counter from the Greensboro, NC Woolworths department store, site of the 1960 drugstore sit-ins; and works by prolific artists such as Charles Alston, Elizabeth Catlett, Romare Bearden, and Henry O. Tanner.