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A Museum’s Unsung Hero

Vinson Cunningham’s piece on the Smithsonian Institution’s new National Museum of African American History and Culture describes the museum’s long period of gestation, the obstacles it faced, and its many champions, but neglects to mention one of its major contributors, the late African-American architect J. Max Bond, Jr. (“Making a Home for Black History,” August 29th). The idea of a national museum dedicated to the African-American experience was first discussed in 1915. In 1991, while working on the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute with the congressman John Lewis, Bond joined the effort. In 2006, he and another noted architect, Phil Freelon, received the commission to define the project’s objectives and to choose its site on the Mall. The early work of Bond and Freelon, who joined forces with the museum’s director, Lonnie Bunch, and the Smithsonian, led to an open design competition. A firm believer in the power of collaboration, Bond invited David Adjaye to join him and Freelon, to form a partnership—FAB—which ultimately won the commission. Bond, who died in 2009, saw the design process as akin to a jazz ensemble, where individuals would inspire one another to create a structure that reflected the richness and diversity of African-American life. The museum is not the effort of a single architect, Adjaye, as Cunningham’s article suggests. While Bond cannot be here to share in the triumph, the decade of effort by him and his team should be recognized.

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