Lonnie G. Bunch III, founding director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, received an honorary degree from Georgetown University in a ceremony in Gaston Hall on Jan. 25.
Since its opening on Sept. 24, 2016, the museum adjacent to the Washington Monument has welcomed about 1 million visitors, according to the university’s website.
The degree ceremony included musical performances by the Georgetown University Concert Choir and a composition by Nolan Williams Jr., “We Choose to Remember,” which was first performed at the Let Freedom Ring! celebration in the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts on Jan. 16.
Associate professor of history Marcia Chatelain stressed the need to confront the legacy of slavery as well as the violence African Americans still face today in the ceremony’s opening prayer.
“We pray that we continue to honor the legacy of the slave, the sharecropper, the marcher, the marginalized, the incarcerated and the ignored,” Chatelain said. “Let us pray for the peaceful rest for those we lost to violence and comfort the families who weep. We pray for the souls of Tanisha, of Sandra, of Freddie, of Trayvon, of Michael, of Renisha, of LaQuan, and of Natasha.”
Maurice Jackson, associate professor in the history department and African-American studies program, delivered Bunch’s honorary degree citation. Jackson emphasized how Bunch’s grandfather and father, Lionel Bunch Sr. and Jr., sparked a passion for history in Bunch from a young age.
“It is Georgetown University’s honor to recognize an extraordinary historian and human being who shares with us a complete understanding of our nation’s history,” Jackson said. “As a young man, Mr. Bunch developed a passion for history inspired by his family.”
University President John J. DeGioia praised Bunch’s efforts at delivering the truth and showcasing the relevance of history.
“It is a privilege to have this opportunity to celebrate this extraordinary individual and his life-long commitment to helping us more fully understand that basic truth,” DeGioia said in reference to the importance of history.
Bunch said his honorary degree was not just honoring him, but rather the many people who had supported his efforts in creating the museum.
“This honor means so much to me because it is an affirmation of the efforts of so many,” Bunch said. “While you hear stories about me, it’s really because of the work of so many people. The fact that thousands of people supported this museum, gave money, gave collections, gave their stories, gave their trust, because of that we were able to birth this museum.”
Bunch said the museum seeks to remember all aspects of the history of African Americans.
“It is crucially important at this museum to tell the unvarnished truth. It must be a place where you are going to cry when you ponder the pain of slavery and segregation,” Bunch said. “It has to be a place that says America must confront itself. For us, this museum had to be a place where people actually found the truth.”
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