Lonnie Bunch Sizes Up His Past and Future at the SmithsonianHistorians in the News
tags: Smithsonian, National Museum of African American History and Culture, Smithsonian Magazine, NMAAHC
The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) is a historical and cultural nexus where American life bears its complex, painful and often self-contradictory soul. NMAAHC is built on fascinating dualities: celebrating African-American history, yet bearing witness to its greatest tragedies; exhibiting objects from everyday homes, yet contextualizing them with academic rigor; acknowledging America’s promises, yet making clear its failures to live up to them; offering an oasis of peace and coming-together, yet reminding all who enter of the deep rifts that still divide us. It is a museum that argues compellingly that the African-American story is the American story.
Walking these various ideological tightropes was the constant honor and burden of Lonnie Bunch, the museum’s founding director, who signed on to the project in 2005 and fought tooth and nail to make what had for a century been a strictly conceptual museum a tangible, physical, beautiful place of learning with a prominent spot on America’s National Mall. Bunch presided over the groundbreaking ceremony in 2012 and the museum’s triumphant opening in 2016.
For more than ten years nonstop in his career as a historian and educator, Bunch lived and breathed the African American History Museum. Now he is beginning a new chapter, leaving the museum he shepherded in capable hands and assuming the position of Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, where he will oversee the entirety of Smithsonian operations using his hard-won success at NMAAHC as a template for bold new initiatives.
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