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Lonnie G. Bunch III to Become Fourteenth Secretary of the Smithsonian

Above: Lonnie G. Bunch III. Photo: Michael Barnes, the Smithsonian Institution Archives.
Above: Lonnie G. Bunch III. Photo: Michael Barnes, the Smithsonian Institution Archives.

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Lonnie G. Bunch III—the founding director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC), which opened in September 2016—was named secretary of the Smithsonian Institution. He will be the fourteenth person to fill the position and the first African American to lead the organization. Bunch will assume his responsibilities on June 16.

A public historian with more than thirty-five years of experience in the museum field, Bunch was appointed head of the NMAAHC in 2005. At the time, he had only one staff member, no collections, and zero funding, yet he managed to secure a spot for the David Adjaye–designed museum on the National Mall. Today, the Smithsonian’s newest museum welcomes around four million visitors a year and has amassed holdings of more than forty thousand objects.

Lonnie Bunch guided, from concept to completion, the complex effort to build the premier museum celebrating African American achievements,” said John G. Roberts, Jr., Smithsonian chancellor and chief justice of the United States. “I look forward to working with him as we approach the Smithsonian’s 175th anniversary, to increase its relevance and role as a beloved American institution and public trust.”

Bunch began his Smithsonian career as an education specialist and historian at the National Air and Space Museum in 1978. He has also held various positions at the National Museum of American History and has served as curator of history and program manager at the California African American Museum in Los Angeles and as president of the Chicago Historical Society.

A prolific writer, Bunch has written on topics ranging from the black military experience to the American presidency to diversity in museum management and has taught these subjects at universities such as the American University and George Washington University. In 2002, President George W. Bush appointed him to the Committee for the Preservation of the White House—he was reappointed by President Barack Obama in 2010.

Commenting on his new position, Bunch said: “I am humbled and honored to become the fourteenth secretary of the Smithsonian Institution. I am excited to work with the board of regents and my colleagues throughout the institution to build upon its legacy and to ensure that the Smithsonian will be even more relevant and more meaningful and reach more people in the future.” He succeeds David Skorton, who is departing the Smithsonian to become president and CEO of the Association of American Medical Colleges.

May 31, 2019