Lonnie Bunch

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Lonnie Bunch
Smithsonian-Lonnie-Bunch-installation-5 (cropped).jpg
Bunch at his installation as Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution in 2019
14th Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution
Assumed office
June 16, 2019
Preceded byDavid J. Skorton
Personal details
Born (1952-11-18) November 18, 1952 (age 69)
Newark, New Jersey, U.S.
Alma materAmerican University (BA, MA)
Academic background
Academic work
DisciplineHistory of the United States
African American Studies

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.[a][b] He has spent most of his career as a history museum curator and administrator.

Bunch served as the founding director of the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) from 2005 to 2019. He 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, wherein the 1990s, he rose to head curatorial affairs. In 2020 he was elected to the American Philosophical Society.[4]

Early life[edit]

Bunch was born in Newark, New Jersey, in 1952[5] to Lonnie Bunch II (a science and chemistry public school teacher) and Montrose Bunch (a third-grade teacher public school teacher),[6] both graduates of Shaw University, one of the oldest HBCUs in the South.[7] 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.[8] As a child, he experienced racism from white teenagers in his neighborhood.[8] 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."[7]


He graduated from Belleville High School in 1970.[5] Bunch attended Howard University[5] but transferred to American University, Washington, DC, where he earned his B.A. and M.A. in American history and African history.[9][5]

Professional career[edit]

Bunch moderating a civil rights panel at the LBJ Library, 2014

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.[5] He worked at the National Museum of American History from 1989 until 1994 as a curator. 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 (Chicago History Museum), from 2001 to 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] As founding director he designed a program of traveling exhibitions and public events prior to the opening of the museum.[12]

He also served on the Commission for the Preservation of the White House during the George W. Bush administration[5] 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 historian and first African American to lead the Smithsonian in its 173 year history, taking on his new role in mid-June 2019[13] On February 12, 2021, Bunch was appointed to the Congressionally-mandated Commission on the Naming of Items of the Department of Defense that Commemorate the Confederate States of America or Any Person Who Served Voluntarily with the Confederate States of America.[14]

Exhibits and research[edit]

He curated the National Museum of American History exhibition The American Presidency: A Glorious Burden.[7] The exhibition was curated, built, and opened within eight months.[15]

Personal life[edit]

Bunch met Maria Marable in graduate school; they would eventually marry and she became Maria Marable-Bunch.[16] The couple have two daughters.[17]

Notable awards[edit]

Bunch and Kinshasha Holman Conwill at the future permanent location of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, 2012


  • 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, 2000. The American Presidency, A Glorious Burden. Washington: Smithsonian Institution. ISBN 978-1560988359
  • with Donna M. Wells, David E. Haberstitch and Deborah Willis, 2009. The Scurlock Studio and Black Washington: Picturing the Promise. Washington: National Museum of African American History and Culture. 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, 2014. Slave Culture: A Documentary Collection of the Slave Narratives from the Federal Writers Project. Connecticut: Greenwood. 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. ^ 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.[1]
  2. ^ 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 .[2]


  1. ^ "leadership.pic.twitter.com/AaeBIYCoXz". @smithsonian. Smithsonian Institution. 28 May 2019. Retrieved 28 May 2019.
  2. ^ "[no title cited]". @smithsonian. Smithsonian Institution. 28 May 2019. Retrieved 28 May 2019.
  3. ^ "National Museum of African American History and Culture". Archives. Smithsonian History. Smithsonian Institution. Retrieved 8 May 2012.
  4. ^ "American Philosophical Society welcomes new members". American Philosophical Society. 2020.
  5. ^ a b c d e f "Lonnie Bunch biography". The History Makers. Education Makers. Retrieved 8 May 2012.
  6. ^ Q&A with Lonnie Bunch. www.c-span.org (video). Retrieved 19 June 2020.
  7. ^ a b c di Ionno, Mark (13 February 2011). "N.J.'s Lonnie Bunch: History in the making at African-American Museum". The Star-Ledger. Retrieved 8 May 2012.
  8. ^ a b Brown, de Neen (17 February 2012). "Lonnie Bunch's vision for the Museum of African American History and Culture". The Washington Post. Retrieved 9 May 2012.
  9. ^ a b "Lonnie G. Bunch, III, Director, NMAAHC". Smithsonian Institution Archives. Retrieved 8 May 2012.
  10. ^ "Lonnie G. Bunch named Director of National Museum of African American History and Culture". Archives. General Notes. Smithsonian Institution. Retrieved 8 May 2012.
  11. ^ "Lonnie G. Bunch III". Smithsonian Institution.
  12. ^ "About the Museum". National Museum of African American History and Culture. Retrieved 19 February 2020.
  13. ^ Dwyer, Colin (28 May 2019). "Lonnie Bunch III set to become Smithsonian Institution's first black secretary". NPR. Retrieved 28 May 2019.
  14. ^ Homan, Timothy R. (12 February 2021). "Pentagon, Congress appoint panel members to rename Confederate base names". The Hill. Retrieved 13 February 2021.
  15. ^ Trescott, Jacqueline (16 March 2005). "Smithsonian taps Lonnie Bunch to be African American Museum Director". The Washington Post. Retrieved 9 May 2012.
  16. ^ "American: American University Magazine". American University. Retrieved 28 May 2019.
  17. ^ "[no title cited]". Ebony magazine. Vol. 56 no. 9. July 2001.
  18. ^ Traynor, Elizabeth (21 October 2011). "Annual Jackie Robinson Night honors celebrated historian". The GW Hatchet. Retrieved 9 May 2012.
  19. ^ McGlone, Peggy (28 May 2019). "Smithsonian's new secretary, Lonnie Bunch III, faces political and financial challenges". Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved 25 September 2019.
  20. ^ "Honorary Degrees". Brown University. Retrieved 21 October 2020.
  21. ^ "Dan David Prize". 2020.

External links[edit]

Government offices
Preceded by 14th Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution