Lonnie Bunch, 65, has been an author, an educator, and a historian. Each vocation shaped him for the job he has today: founding director of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C. Bunch recently was interviewed by National Geographic Editor in Chief Susan Goldberg.
Susan Goldberg: The museum has been an overwhelming success; visitors have to order tickets months in advance. To what do you attribute that passionate interest?
Lonnie Bunch: I think part of it is that so many people really wanted to understand the full history of the United States. A lot of people find this a pilgrimage. The most amazing thing is to watch grandparents talk to grandchildren about an event they lived through or to see people cross racial lines to find common ground over things that once divided us. It really has become a place whose time is now and whose story is so important to all of us. The human scale allows people to feel that they can talk about issues. Suddenly they’re thinking, That could be me. That could be my grandmother. You have an engagement you don’t normally have.