The founding director of the Smithsonian’s museum about African American history will now lead the entire system of museums and parks.
The Smithsonian Institution on Tuesday named Lonnie Bunch as its 14th secretary. He will become the first African American to lead the Smithsonian, which includes the world’s largest museum, education and research complex, with 19 museums and the National Zoological Park.
Bunch was the first director of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.
In an interview before the museum’s opening in 2016 with the PBS NewsHour’s Gwen Ifill, Bunch said he hoped it would be “a place that is the great convener, that can bring anybody and everybody into a conversation around race.”
Bunch was hired in 2005 and shepherded the collection of more than 40,000 items and the creation of the museum on the National Mall.
He told Ifill that he was struck by the generosity of people who donated items to the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, and that the “amazing” philanthropy by African Americans “will change the way the Smithsonian and other cultural institutions will do their work in the future.”
Bunch’s efforts to gather historically significant artifacts did not stop with museum’s opening.
He has spearheaded efforts to collect items from the Black Lives Matter movements and other significant events as a way to preserve and shape the way Americans view history.
“I know as a scholar of African American history there were many times I wanted to do exhibitions and there was nothing in the collections that could tell those stories. That shapes history by omission,” Bunch told PBS NewsHour Weekend in a 2018 interview.
Bunch will take over the helm at the Smithsonian Institution on June 16.