How Lonnie Bunch came to lead the Museum of African American HistoryHistorians in the News
tags: Smithsonian, African American history, Lonnie Bunch
As the director of the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C., Lonnie Bunch spends his days helping Americans understand history that has both brought us together and divided us. The founding director of the museum, Bunch also has been director at the Chicago History Museum and Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.
USA TODAY caught up with Bunch to talk about everything from Sam Cooke and Langston Hughes to discovering a passion for history as a child and helping America to grapple with its past.
Question: How did you get your start in this field?
Lonnie Bunch: I got my start being interested in history when I was a little kid. Before I was 5, my grandfather would read books to me, and one book had a series of pictures. They were basically kids who looked my age, but I remember he said, “These pictures were taken in the 19th century, and more than likely these kids are dead by now.” As a little kid I was stunned that somebody could look like me as a kid and then be dead. And then he said words to me I’ve never forgotten. He said, “Isn’t it a shame that people could live their lives, die, and all it says under the caption is anonymous or unknown children?” From that moment, I became fascinated with photography, looking at old pictures, trying to understand what those people’s lives were like. Were they happy? Were they treated fairly? That just got me interested in history, and I began to ask questions about how history could be used to help me understand not only my own life but help me understand this country I live in. That led me down a path that eventually got me to museums.
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