Lonnie Bunch

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Lonnie Bunch
Born (1952-11-18) November 18, 1952 (age 66)
Alma materAmerican University
Howard University
Scientific career
FieldsHistory of the United States
African American Studies
InstitutionsSmithsonian Institution
National Museum of African American History and Culture
Chicago History Museum

Lonnie G. Bunch III (born November 18, 1952) is an American educator and historian. Bunch is the 14th Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, the first African American and first historian to serve as head of the Smithsonian.[1][2] He has spent most of his career as a history museum curator and administrator. He served as the founding director of the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) from 2005 to 2019. Bunch previously served as president and director of the Chicago History Museum (Chicago Historical Society) from 2000 to 2005.[3] In the 1980s, he was the first curator at the California African American Museum, and then a curator at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History, where in the 1990s, he rose to head curatorial affairs.

Personal life and education[edit]

Bunch was born in Newark, New Jersey, in 1952.[4] He grew up in Belleville, New Jersey, where his family were the only African Americans in their neighborhood. His grandfather, a former sharecropper, moved into the area as one of the first black dentists in the region,[5] and Bunch's father and mother were school teachers.[6] As a child, he experienced racism from white teenagers in his neighborhood.[5] Bunch credits his childhood experiences with local Italian immigrants and his reading of biographies as a youth with inspiring him to study history. Bunch wanted to give a voice to those who were "anonymous" or not written about. In 2011 Bunch reflected on the early exposures: "I was in junior high and we were reading biographies of historic figures. I remember one on Gen. ‘Mad Anthony’ Wayne, and one on Clara Barton and Dorothea Dix. I thought, ‘Were there no histories of black people?’ One day, I was going through my grandfather’s trunk and I found a book about black soldiers in the First World War. I devoured it."[6]

Bunch met Maria Marable in graduate school; they would eventually marry and she became Maria Marable-Bunch.[7] The couple have two daughters.[8]


He graduated from Belleville High School in 1970.[4] Bunch attended Howard University[4] but transferred to American University, Washington, DC, where he earned his B.A. and M.A. in American history and African history.[9][4]

Professional career[edit]

Lonnie Bunch at NMAAHC Site Selection News Conference

Bunch started working at the Smithsonian Institution while he was working on his master's degree. After graduating, he was hired as a history professor at the University of Maryland. In 1983, he became the first curator at the California African American Museum.[4] He worked at the National Museum of American History from 1989 until 1994 as a curator. Lonnie Bunch is an educator who was a Professor at the University of Maryland. He was promoted to Associate Director for Curatorial Affairs at the museum before leaving in 2000 to become the president of one of the nation's oldest museums in history, the Chicago Historical Society, from 2001-2005.[10] In Chicago he led a successful capital campaign, and promoted outreach to diverse communities. One noted exhibit, Teen Chicago, focused on teenager life.[11] In 2005, Bunch was named the director of the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of African American History and Culture.[9] He served on the Commission for the Preservation of the White House during the George W. Bush administration[4] and was reappointed to the Commission by President Obama in 2010.

On May 28, 2019, Bunch was elected Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution. He became the first African American to lead the Smithsonian in its 173-year history, taking on his new role in mid-June 2019, at which time a search will begin for a new director for the NMAAHC.[12]

Exhibits and research[edit]

He curated the National Museum of American History exhibition The American Presidency: A Glorious Burden.[6] The exhibition was curated, built, and opened within eight months.[13]

Notable awards[edit]

  • Jackie Robinson Society Community Recognition Award, 2011[14]


  • with Laurence P. and Martha Kendall Crouchette Winnaker, Visions Toward Tomorrow, the History of the East Bay Afro-American Community 1852-1977. Oakland: Northern California Center for Afro-American History and Life. 1989. ISBN 0-9622334-0-4
  • with Spencer R. Crew, Mark G. Hirsch and Harry R. Rubenstein, The American Presidency, A Glorious Burden. Washington: Smithsonian Institution. 2000. ISBN 978-1560988359
  • with Donna M. Wells, David E. Haberstitch and Deborah Willis, The Scurlock Studio and Black Washington: Picturing the Promise. Washington: National Museum of African American History and Culture. 2009. ISBN 978-1588342720
  • Call the Lost Dream Back: Essays on History, Race & Museums. Georgia: Big River Books. 2010. ISBN 978-1933253176
  • with Spencer R. Crew and Clement A. Price, Slave Culture: A Documentary Collection of the Slave Narratives from the Federal Writers Project. Connecticut: Greenwood. 2014. ISBN 978-1440800863
  • Bunch, Lonnie G. (2019). A fool's errand : creating the National Museum of African American History and Culture in the age of Bush, Obama, and Trump. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Scholarly Press. ISBN 9781588346681. OCLC 1089275852.


  1. ^ Smithsonian (May 28, 2019). "We are thrilled to announce that our Board of Regents has elected Lonnie G. Bunch III as the 14th Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, effective June 16. The founding director of our @NMAAHC, Bunch brings a reputation for compelling scholarship and visionary leadership.pic.twitter.com/AaeBIYCoXz". @smithsonian. Retrieved May 28, 2019.
  2. ^ Smithsonian (May 28, 2019). "Bunch is the first African American to serve as Secretary of the Smithsonian. He is also the first historian elected Secretary and the first museum director to ascend to Secretary in 74 years. Watch the announcement live:http://si.edu/live". @smithsonian. Retrieved May 28, 2019.
  3. ^ "National Museum of African American History and Culture". Smithsonian History. Smithsonian Institution Archives. Retrieved May 8, 2012.
  4. ^ a b c d e f "Lonnie Bunch Biography". EducationMakers. The History Makers. Retrieved May 8, 2012.
  5. ^ a b Brown, DeNeen (February 17, 2012). "Lonnie Bunch's vision for the Museum of African American History and Culture". Washington Post. Retrieved May 9, 2012.
  6. ^ a b c Di Ionno, Mark (February 13, 2011). "N.J.'s Lonnie Bunch: History in the making at African-American museum". The Star-Ledger. Retrieved May 8, 2012.
  7. ^ "American: American University Magazine". American University. Retrieved May 28, 2019.
  8. ^ Ebony Magazine, July 2001, Volume 56# 9.
  9. ^ a b "Lonnie G. Bunch, III, Director, NMAAHC". Smithsonian Institution Archives. Retrieved May 8, 2012.
  10. ^ "Lonnie G. Bunch Named Director of National Museum of African American History and Culture". General Notes. Smithsonian Institution Archives. Retrieved May 8, 2012.
  11. ^ "Lonnie G. Bunch III", Smithsonian.
  12. ^ Dwyer, Colin (May 28, 2019). "Lonnie Bunch III Set To Become Smithsonian Institution's First Black Secretary". NPR. Retrieved May 28, 2019.
  13. ^ Trescott, Jacqueline (March 16, 2005). "Smithsonian Taps Lonnie Bunch to Be African American Museum Director". Washington Post. Retrieved May 9, 2012.
  14. ^ Traynor, Elizabeth (October 21, 2011). "Annual Jackie Robinson Night honors celebrated historian". The GW Hatchet. Retrieved May 9, 2012.
  15. ^ McGlone, Peggy (2019-05-28). "Smithsonian's new secretary, Lonnie Bunch III, faces political and financial challenges". Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved 2019-09-25.

External links[edit]

Government offices
Preceded by
David J. Skorton
Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution