October 7, 2023 – Lonnie Bunch III, An Example of Black Excellence

Lonnie Bunch III

Lonnie Bunch III was the Founding Director of The National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) and is the current Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, the first African American to hold the position.

Lonnie Bunch III was born in Newark, New Jersey.  His parents, Lonnie Bunch II and Montrose Bunch, were both teachers and graduates of Shaw University, one of the oldest Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) in the south. Shaw University is located in Raleigh, North Carolina, and is affiliated with the American Baptist Churches USA. Founded on December 1, 1865, it is the oldest HBCU to begin offering courses to black people in the southern United States.

Lonnie Bunch I, a former sharecropper, became a dentist and moved to Belleville, NJ where Lonnie Bunch III grew up. His family was the only Black family in the neighborhood. Lonnie Bunch III remembers reading biographies of historic figures but there were no accounts of Black people prompting him to take an interest in history to tell untold stories.

Bunch III began his college studies at Howard University and transferred to American University where he got his Bachelor of Arts, Masters of Arts, and doctorate degrees in history.

While in graduate school, he began to work at the Smithsonian Institution. After graduating, he was hired as a history professor at the University of Maryland.

From 1983 to 1989, Bunch was the first curator of The California African American Museum.  He has also held several teaching positions at academic institutions, including the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth, George Washington University, and American University.

He became President of one of the nation’s oldest museums in history, The Chicago Historical Society, where he organized a successful capital campaign.  He also reached out to diverse communities. 

In 2005, he accepted the position as Founding Director of the National Museum of African American History and Culture.  The story of how this museum came to be is chronicled in his book, A Fool’s Errand. It tells the story of the help he received from businesspersons, particularly Black CEOs, politicians and famous persons from all walks of life, and the unique ways the materials in the exhibits came to the Museum.  Lonnie Bunch III and his team raised over $400 million for the construction of the building. 

The museum at 1400 Constitution Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20560 opened September 24, 2016. The Grand Opening of the NMAAHC can be seen on YouTube.  The Museum’s website is continually updated with events, exhibits, and opportunities to participate, visit, learn and donate.

On June 16, 2019, Lonnie Bunch III became the General Secretary of the entire Smithsonian Institution. As Secretary, he oversees 21 museums, 21 libraries, the National Zoo and numerous research centers that include but are not limited to the following:

  1.   Anacostia Community Museum
  2.   Arts And Industries Building
  3.   Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum
  4.   The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden
  5.  Arthur M. Sackler Gallery
  6.  The Freer Gallery
  7.  National Museum of African American History and Culture
  8.   National Museum of American History
  9.   National Museum of the American Indian
  10.   National Museum of Natural History
  11.   National Portrait Gallery
  12.   National Postal Museum
  13.   Renwick Gallery
  14.   Smithsonian American Art Museum
  15.   Smithsonian Institution Building (The Castle)
  16.   National Zoological Park (National Zoo)

And numerous other research and educational facilities.

150 150 Ethel Mitchell

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