On Tuesday (May 28), Lonnie G. Bunch III became the first Black person to be elected to the post of secretary for the Smithsonian Institution in the 173 years since it was founded. The Newark, New Jersey, native and Howard University alumnus is the 14th person to hold the top spot, but the “first historian elected secretary … [and] the first museum director to ascend to secretary in 74 years,” Smithsonian said in a statement.
Bunch currently serves as the founding director of the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC), a position he’s held since 2005. He takes over as secretary on June 16. In that role, Bunch will lead the world’s largest museum and its 21 libraries, 19 museums, nine research centers, National Zoo and education centers.
Bunch’s role in founding the 400,000-square foot NMAAHC in Washington, D.C., which currently holds more than 36,000 artifacts, extends well beyond running the museum. Last week, Colorlines reported that in partnership with several archeological and historical organizations, NMAAHC was part of team that discovered the last-known slave ship.
“Lonnie Bunch guided, from concept to completion, the complex effort to build the premier museum celebrating African American achievements,” John G. Roberts, Jr., chief justice of the United States and Smithsonian chancellor, told Smithsonian Magazine.
In a video interview with The Associated Press on the day of the announcement, Bunch said, “My whole career has been about kicking down doors and breaking ceilings and trying to help people understand that both [Black] culture and [Black people] are central to who we are as Americans.”
Watch The AP interview: