Philip Kennicott reflects on Lonnie G. Bunch III’s appointment to secretary of the Smithsonian Institution and what it might spell for the future of Smithsonian museums. Bunch’s career as a historian and museum professional has focused on confronting the history of racism and white supremacy, and his willingness to name these and other challenging phenomena might make a significant change at the institution, Kennicott believes.
Bunch also takes over at a moment of extreme peril in human history, and he will lead perhaps the only institution in American life that has both the intellectual capacity and the public credibility to confront the three greatest dangers we now face: climate change, the cultural and technological corruption of democratic processes, and white supremacy and neo-nationalism.
Last year, Lonnie G. Bunch III explained why the Smithsonian was holding a day-long symposium called "Mascots, Myths, Monuments and Memory." Monuments to Confederate leaders, he said, began going up in public squares throughout the United States in the decades before and after the dawn of the 20th century, the same time that images of Native Americans began to be used as mascots, product labels and advertising logos.