Smithsonian’s African American museum names poet Kevin Young as its new director

Noble Horvath

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture has a new president. On Tuesday, the museum announced that Kevin Young, the director of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in New York, will take over for Lonnie Bunch III (the museum’s founding director from 2005 to […]

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture has a new president.

On Tuesday, the museum announced that Kevin Young, the director of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in New York, will take over for Lonnie Bunch III (the museum’s founding director from 2005 to 2019), who is now the Secretary of the Smithsonian.

The leadership change will take effect Jan. 11, the museum said.

Young, an author, a poet, and an editor, led the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture (2016-2020) as the institution acquired the manuscript of Alex Haley’s “The Autobiography of Malcolm X,” including a once-lost chapter, and the Harlem-based archives of Harry Belafonte and James Baldwin.

Before Young took the helm at the Schomburg Center, he was a professor at Emory University. He was also the curator of the university’s Raymond Danowski Poetry Library, a 75,000-volume collection of rare and modern poetry, and curator of literary collections.

“I look forward to directing the National Museum of African American History and Culture in this next phase of leadership, after its founding, opening and dynamic exhibitions and events,” said Young in a museum press release. “Having visited the museum myself with my family, I know what a powerful place it is, transforming visitors both in-person and online, and revealing the centrality of African American culture to the American experience. I am eager to engage further directions in the museum’s mission, embracing our digital present and future while furthering conversations around Black history, art, liberation, and joy.”

Kevin Young, an author, a poet, and an editor, led the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture for four years (2016-2020).
Melanie Dunea/Provided Photo

Bunch, who previously was the Chicago Historical Society’s president from 2001 to 2005, became the Smithsonian’s 14th secretary in June 2019.

Spencer Crew — a guest curator of one of the museum’s inaugural exhibitions — filled in on an interim basis after Bunch stepped down in May, while the museum conducted a search for his successor.

“Kevin will bring an exciting mix of scholarship, technological savvy and bold vision that builds on the foundational work of the many people who built the museum,” said Bunch in a museum press release. “As a poet, he understands how the museum fulfilled the dreams of many Americans, and under his leadership the museum will shape the hopes of future generations.”

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