Try as they may, black excellence can only be denied for so long.
To that point, congratulations are in order to Lonnie G. Bunch III—founding director of the National Museum of African American History and Culture—who cracked the code and just became the first black person in the 173-year history of the Smithsonian Institution to be named secretary.
The Washington Post reports that his nomination was approved Tuesday morning by the Smithsonian’s 17-member Board of Regents. He will be the first Smithsonian director to be promoted to the secretary’s post in 74 years and succeeds David J. Skorton, who announced his resignation in December.
“We are happy that the first African American is going to be the Smithsonian secretary,” David Rubenstein, chairman of the Board of Regents, said. “He was so overwhelmingly better, it wasn’t really close.”
For those out the loop, the 66-year-old Bunch is kind of a big deal in the museum industry. He’s been celebrated for his fundraising capabilities both in Congress and with private donors, his impeccable reputation as both a curator and administrator, and his experience working at storied institutions such as the California African American Museum and the National Museum of American History. But in being promoted to secretary, one of the most important factors was his tremendous success with the NMAAHC.
“He has achieved one of the most impressive accomplishments at the Smithsonian in decades, building the African American Museum from scratch.” Rubenstein said.
Bunch is keenly aware of the barriers he’s broken since beginning his career in 1978 and assures his new post “will open doors for others.”
“I have such a profound love of the Smithsonian,” Bunch said. “I want to help the world see the Smithsonian as I do, as a place that matters, with gifted people who just want to serve their country.”
As secretary, Bunch will helm a $1.5 billion annual budget that supports 19 museums, nine research centers and the National Zoo. He’ll also oversee a staff of over 6,800 people, the invaluable collections of almost 155 million items and be responsible for raising over $500 million annually in order to supplement the institution’s $1 billion federal subsidy.
“It is important for the public to view the Smithsonian not simply as an addict of nostalgia, but as a cauldron of ideas of innovation and understanding that can be transformative for our country,” he said during at a news conference.
Bunch will begin his new gig on June 16.