The continuing politics of being the first
David L. Horne, Ph.D ow contribuor | 5/30/2019, 9:55 a.m.
In reviewing the history and contributions of African- Americans in this country, in spite of all that has been thrown at us, rumored about us, and threatened for us, we have somehow always continued making progress and being designated as being first, best, and brightest in a wide variety of venues, positions and areas of expertise. Here is another such example.
In 1983, before he earned either a master’s or doctorate degree, scholar Lonnie Bunch became the first professional curator at the California African-American Museum in Exposition Park. He was smart, creative, and dependable.
He went on to become the president and director of the prestigious Chicago History Museum until 2005, and was simultaneously appointed to the Commission for the Preservation of the White House under President George W. Bush, and continued in that capacity under President Barack Obama. More importantly, however, after he left Los Angeles, he was appointed to found and move forward the idea of creating a national African- American museum on the Washington Mall in D.C., which was and is some of the most valuable property---politically and monetarily—in all of the USA.
That succeeded spectacularly in that assignment, and that project became his legacy statement. He was able to raise over $452 million to create the largest collection of African-American books, memorabilia and artifacts in the world into the National Museum of African-American History and Culture in the nation’s capital, in spite of all criticism, delays, and attempts to halt and derail the project. Quite simply, he, along with the team he assembled, was able to do it all against all odds. That museum was dedicated in September 2016, as one of the final, signature presentations, by President Obama, and that edifice still stands as one of the most magnificent achievements of the Obama administration, and cannot be undone by the current administration.
Dr. Lonnie Bunch, the museum’s founder and director, could have easily rested on his laurels, as the NAAMHC continues to grow, shine and remain resplendent on the Washington Mall. Under his leadership, the African-American Museum has already had over 5.5 million visitors, published over 22 books, produced over 120 different public cultural programs, established an endowment of over $300 million, and is the most popular and well-known museum in the USA, and arguably the world. Mr. Bunch and the NAAMHC possess the largest list of well-to-do and famous African-Americans in the world as supporters and champions. In Washington, D.C., the museum cannot be unseen and it cannot be ignored.
However, last week, the board of regents for the Smithsonian Institute (of which the NAAMHC is a part), the largest collective museum and cultural center complex in this country, chose Dr. Bunch as the first AfricanAmerican and first professional historian to be the new secretary of the Smithsonian. That position is equivalent to being the CEO of the whole Smithsonian, and means Dr. Bunch---whose tenure starts in a few weeks---will now be the head of over 19 museums, 21 libraries, the National Zoo Park complex, 9 research centers, and at least 4 national education centers and clubs.
Dr. Bunch becomes the first former museum director in at least 75 years to be selected as the Secretary of the Smithsonian Institute, and he becomes the head honcho for the country’s preservation of American history and culture.
Now that sounds like Br’er Rabbit and the Bramble Bush to me.
Professor David L. Horne is founder and executive director of PAPPEI, the Pan African Public Policy and Ethical Institute, which is a new 501(c)(3) pending community-based organization or non-governmental organization (NGO). It is the stepparent organization for the California Black Think Tank which still operates and which meets every fourth Friday.
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