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A Fool's Errand: Creating the National Museum of African American History and Culture in the Age of Bush, Obama, and Trump

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Founding Director Lonnie Bunch's deeply personal tale of the triumphs and challenges of bringing the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture to life. His story is by turns inspiring, funny, frustrating, quixotic, bittersweet, and above all, a compelling read.

In its first four months of operation, the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture surpassed one million visits and quickly became a cherished, vital monument to the African American experience. And yet this accomplishment was never assured. In A Fool's Errand, founding director Lonnie Bunch tells his story of bringing his clear vision and leadership to realize this shared dream of many generations of Americans.

Outlining the challenges of site choice, architect selection, building design, and the compilation of an unparalleled collection of African American artifacts, Bunch also delves into his personal struggles—especially the stress of a high-profile undertaking—and the triumph of establishing such an institution without mentors or guidebooks to light the way. His memoir underscores his determination to create a museum that treats the black experience as an essential component of every American's identity.

This inside account of how Bunch planned, managed, and executed the museum's mission informs and inspires not only readers working in museums, cultural institutions, and activist groups, but also those in the nonprofit and business worlds who wish to understand how to succeed—and do it spectacularly—in the face of major political, structural, and financial challenges.

ISBN-13: 9781588346681

Media Type: Hardcover

Publisher: Smithsonian Institution Press

Publication Date: 09-24-2019

Pages: 288

Product Dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.20(h) x 1.10(d)

LONNIE G. BUNCH III is Founding Director of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, and now Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution. Prior to becoming the director, he served as the president of the Chicago Historical Society and as the associate director for curatorial affairs at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History. Bunch is also co-author of The American Presidency: A Glorious Burden (Smithsonian Books, 2000) and From No Return: The 221-Year Journey of the Slave Ship São José (Smithsonian Books, 2017)

Table of Contents

Preface ix

Chapter 1 What Happens to a Dream Deferred? 1

Chapter 2 You End as You Begin 17

Chapter 3 Now That You Have It, What You Gonna Do With It? 43

Chapter 4 Designing a Dream 67

Chapter 5 Finding the Stuff of History 87

Chapter 6 Realizing a Dream Takes Money 117

Chapter 7 Befriending Presidents and Managing Congress: A Long Way From New Jersey 137

Chapter 8 Exhibiting American History Through an African American Lens: Making a Way Out of No Way 157

Chapter 9 All in the Family: Building a Community of Caring Colleagues 177

Chapter 10 Filling the Hole: The Challenge of Building on the National Mall 195

Chapter 11 Welcoming America Home: The Opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture 213

Chapter 12 A First Year of Surprise and Wonder: Helping America to Remember 241

Epilogue 257

Acknowledgments 263

Index 267