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                                 to figure out why. I thought history might be a way to under- stand what it means when you get diverse people together, people who are struggling for their own piece of America.”
After graduation, he left DC for a position as an assistant professor at the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth, then to Brooklyn teaching at Packer Collegiate Institute.
But he later made a big career shift and accepted an opportunity to become the curator of the new California African American Museum (CAAM). It was one of the first museums in the state dedicated to the black experience.
President Barack Obama delivers remarks during the groundbreaking ceremony for the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture site in Washington, DC, Feb. 22, 2012.
To become founding director of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, Bunch spent over a decade on a journey that was as much part-administrator and historian as it was part-politician and fundraiser.
Through the building’s unique architectural features
to the interior details, visitors travel through hundreds of years of time from slavery to present day. Bunch chose a bronze-colored facade for the building, saying he wanted to convey “there’s always been a dark presence in America that often got overlooked or undervalued.”
“I thought history might be a way to understand what it means when you get diverse people together, people who are struggling for their own piece of America.” — LONNIE BUNCH
Although he didn’t have any formal training in museum studies, Bunch excelled at his new position. He designed many award-winning exhibits. One, in particular, The Black Olympians, 1904-1984, established his reputation as a curator.
This exhibit allowed visitors to walk on the track where African American sprinter Carl Lewis had won four gold medals. Bunch’s way of making that exhibit interactive showed he was a rising star in the museum world.
“I never let my ignorance stop me, so I would just kind of talk to people and they’d come with good ideas and I said, ‘Let’s try to do it,’” he said in a 2006 interview.
Roger Kennedy, director of the National Museum of American History (NMAH), invited him back to the Smithso- nian as Supervising Curator in the Division of Community Life and, within three years, Bunch was Assistant Director for Curatorial Affairs; Two years later, Associate Director.
From there, he became president of the Chicago Historical Society, which prepared him for the biggest role of his life.
The Negro in World War I, the book that Bunch found
in his grandfather’s basement that day, sits in his library today. With such a rich childhood memory in his mind at all times, Bunch built a museum that now serves as the repos- itory for the collective history of black civil rights leaders, abolitionists, sports icons and business tycoons as well as the anonymous and voiceless who his grandfather pitied.
“The vision of the museum was built on four pillars,” Bunch wrote of his journey. “One was to harness the power of memory to help America illuminate all the dark corners of its past. Another was to demonstrate that this was more than a people’s journey—it was a nation’s story. The third was to be a beacon that illuminated all the work of other museums in a manner that was collaborative, and not competitive. And the last—given the numbers of people worldwide who first learn about America through African American culture—was to reflect upon the global dimen- sions of the African American experience.”

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