Smithsonian chief to discuss creation of African American history museum

Lonnie G. Bunch III
Lonnie G. Bunch III

Lonnie G. Bunch III, secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, will visit Yale University on Thursday, Oct. 24 for a conversation about his new memoir, “A Fool’s Errand: Creating the National Museum of African American History and Culture in the Age of Bush, Obama, and Trump.”

Bunch, who was the founding director of the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) from 2005 to 2019, will discuss his book with Elijah Anderson, Sterling Professor of Sociology and of African American Studies, at 7 p.m. in the O.C. Marsh Lecture Hall at the new Yale Science Building, 260 Whitney Ave. The event is free and open to the public, but tickets must be reserved in advance.

In “A Fool’s Errand,” Bunch describes the leadership and vision he brought to the more than decade-long effort to establish the NMAAHC, which opened on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., to widespread acclaim in September 2016. Bunch provides a deeply personal account of the triumphs and hardships he experienced while bringing the museum to life. He outlines the challenges of choosing a site, commissioning architects and finalizing the building design, and developing and exhibiting what is considered an unparalleled collection of nearly 40,000 African American artifacts.

Bunch and Anderson, who is one of the nation’s most influential scholars in the field of urban inequality, will discuss the museum’s role in using history and culture to help the United States come to grips with its racist past and bridge the social and cultural issues that divide the country.

The National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C.
The National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C.

Bunch was appointed the 14th secretary of the Smithsonian Institution in June 2019. He is the first African American to lead the Smithsonian Institution, the world’s largest museum complex. Prior to becoming the director of the NMAAHC, Bunch served as the president of the Chicago Historical Society and as the associate director for curatorial affairs at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History. He is also co-author of “The American Presidency: A Glorious Burden” (Smithsonian Books, 2000) and “From No Return: The 221-Year Journey of the Slave Ship São José” (Smithsonian Books, 2017).

The book discussion is presented by the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History and R.J. Julia Independent Booksellers with support from Yale’s Office of the President. Support for Secretary Bunch’s national book tour is provided by Toyota.

To reserve tickets, visit the Yale Peabody Museum’s site for the event.

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Mike Cummings: michael.cummings@yale.edu, 203-432-9548