Andrew W. Mellon Director
Credit: Melanie Dunea
Kevin Young is the Andrew W. Mellon Director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. As the nation's largest museum dedicated to telling the African American story, the 19th and newest museum in the Smithsonian complex welcomes 2 million annual visitors and engages an international audience through world-class online programming and digital access to its collections.
Prior to joining the Smithsonian, Young served as the Director of the New York Public Library’s Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture from 2016-2021, where he oversaw significant increases to its funding, archive acquisitions, and visitor reach. A professor for two decades, he began his career in museums and archives at Emory University in 2005, first as Curator of the Raymond Danowski Poetry Library and later as the Curator of Literary Collections, while serving as Candler Professor of English and Creative Writing.
An award-winning author of thirteen books of poetry and prose, Young is the poetry editor of the New Yorker, where he also hosts the poetry podcast. Young’s most recent works include Brown (2018) and Bunk: The Rise of Hoaxes, Humbug, Plagiarists, Phonies, Post-Facts & Fake News (2017), which was longlisted for the National Book Award and a National Book Critics Circle Award; both were named New York Times Notable Books. Other noteworthy titles include Blue Laws: Selected & Uncollected Poems 1995-2015 (2016), longlisted for the National Book Award; Book of Hours (2014), winner of the Lenore Marshall Prize; and his nonfiction debut The Grey Album: On the Blackness of Blackness (2012), which won the PEN Open Award and was named a New York Times Notable Book. His third poetry collection Jelly Roll: a blues (2003) was a finalist for both the National Book Award and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize.
Young is also the editor of nine volumes, most recently the anthology African American Poetry: 250 Years of Struggle & Song, released in fall 2020 from Library of America. The collection was named one of the best books of 2020 by the New York Times Book Review, Esquire, TIME, the Atlantic, Good Morning America, O, the Oprah Magazine, The Chicago Tribune, Shelf Awareness, Lit Hub, and Barnes & Noble. The New York Times called it “monumental and rapturous”; NPR’s “Fresh Air” named it “the year’s most revelatory book”; and TIME magazine describes it as “a document both breathtaking and inspiring, historical and personal.”
Young holds a Bachelor of Arts from Harvard College and a Master of Fine Arts from Brown University. He has held a Stegner Fellowship in Poetry at Stanford, a Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship, and a NEA fellowship. Director Young is active across the art and cultural community. He is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and was named a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets in 2020.
Secretary, Smithsonian Institution
Founder and Managing Partner, Grain Management LLC
President, Rutgers University
Founder, Urban One, Inc.
LaTanya R. Jackson
Actress, director, and producer
Brian T. Moynihan
Chairman and CEO, Bank of America
Retired General, United States Army; former Secretary of State, United States of America
Founder and CEO, Shondaland
Linda Johnson Rice
Chairman, Johnson Publishing Company, Inc.
Founder and CEO, Pendulum Holdings, LLC
Commissioner of Higher Education, State of Massachusetts
CEO, The Wentworth Group, LLC
President emeritus, Howard University
Executive chairman, BlackIvy Group, LLC
Chairman and CEO, OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network and Harpo, Inc.
Co-chairman emeritus, SENTEL Corporation
Scholarly Advisory Committee
With noted historian Dr. John Hope Franklin (1915-2009) as its Founding Chairman beginning in 2005, the museum created a scholarly advisory committee to help shape its intellectual agenda, exhibition content and programming.
Dr. John Hope Franklin served as Founding Chairman of the NMAAHC Scholarly Advisory Committee until his death in March 2009. The James B. Duke Professor of History, Emeritus, at Duke University and former Professor of Legal History at Duke University Law School. Franklin also taught at Fisk University in Tennessee, St. Augustine's College in North Carolina, North Carolina College, Howard University, Brooklyn College and the University of Chicago.
Franklin is best known for his study "From Slavery to Freedom: A History of Negro Americans," now in its eighth edition. Some of his other notable publications are "The Militant South, 1800-1860" (1956); "Reconstruction After the Civil War" (1962); "The emancipation Proclamation" (1963); "Racial Equality in America" (1976); "Race and History: Selected Essays, 1938-1988" (1990); and "The Color Line: Legacy for the 21st Century" (1993). He also served as historical consultant on Steven Spielberg's Oscar-nominated film "Amistad."
Franklin has served on a variety of commissions and boards, including the President's Initiative on Race, the National Council of the Humanities, the National Parks System Advisory Board and the U.S. Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy. He received his bachelor's degree from Fisk University in Tennessee and his master's and doctoral degrees from Harvard University.
Michael Blakey is currently National Endowment for the Humanities Professor of Anthropology and Professor of American Studies at the College of William and Mary. He is founding Director of the Institute for Historical Biology at that university. From 1992-2004 Dr. Blakey was Scientific Director of the New York African Burial Ground Project involving interdisciplinary study of 419 skeletons of Africans enslaved in 18th century New York City. Professor Blakey held an Adjunct Professorship in Anatomy in the College of Medicine at Howard University where he had for many years been Professor of Anthropology and Curator of the W. Montague Cobb Human Skeletal Collection. He has taught at Spelman College, the Universita di Roma - La Sapienza, Columbia University, and Brown University. He served as a Research Associate in Physical Anthropology in the National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution for 9 years. He is a past President of the Association of Black Anthropologists, member of the Executive Council of the Society for Medical Anthropology, United States' Representative to the Council of the 4th World Archaeological Congress in Cape Town, and Permanent Representative to Washington for the African Bureau of Education Sciences, Organization of African States.
Blakey earned his B.A. at Howard University and the M.A. and Ph.D. degrees at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. He received an honorary Doctor of Science degree from York College, CUNY in 1995. His numerous publications concern paleopathology, historical demography, race and racism, biocultural anthropology and the history and philosophy of science. His work is found in leading journals that include Annual Review of Anthropology, American Anthropologist, American Journal of Physical Anthropology, Historical Archeology, Current Anthropology, and Critique of Anthropology.
Taylor Branch, Pulitzer Prize-winning historian, is the author of a grand three-volume work that is both a biography of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and a history of the Civil Rights Movement under his leadership. The product of nearly 25 years of intensive archival research and the collection of oral history, the trilogy has been hailed as one of the greatest achievements in the field of American biography. Branch received the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Christopher Award, and the "Los Angeles Times" Book Award for the first volume in the trilogy, "Parting the Waters: America in the King Years, 1954-1963" (1988). The book was also named a "Best Book of the Year" by the "New York Times" and "Boston Globe." A second volume, "Pillar of Fire: America in the King Years, 1963-1965" (1997), appeared nearly ten years later. The third and final volume, "At Canaan's Edge: America in the King Years 1965-68" (2006), chronicles the last three years of King's life, from the march on Montgomery to his assassination in Memphis.
Earlier in his career, Branch worked as a staff writer for "Washington Monthly," "Harper's," and "Esquire." His previous nonfiction books include "Blowing the Whistle: Dissent in the Public Interest" (1972, edited with Charles Peters), and "Labyrinth: The Pursuit of the Letelier Assassins (1982, with Eugene Propper). Branch also co-wrote the autobiography of NBA Hall of Famer Bill Russell, "Second Wind: The Memoirs of an Opinionated Man" (1979), and produced a novel "The Empire Blues" (1981). In 1991, Branch was awarded a MacArthur "Genius" Fellowship for his contributions to American history.
Dr. Johnnetta Betsch Cole currently serves as Director of African Art. Her career as a college and university professor and administrator spans over three decades. Her accomplishments in the field of education, and her record of community service paved the way for her appointment as the first African American woman to serve as president of Spelman College since it's founding in 1881. In May 2004 she became the first African American to serve as Chair Board of United Way of America. Dr. Cole is President emerita of Spelman College and professor emerita of Emory University from which she retired as Presidential Distinguished Professor of Anthropology, Women's Studies and African Studies.
Dr. Cole entered Fisk University at the age of 15 and completed her undergraduate degree at Oberlin College. She obtained her master's degree and a Ph.D. in anthropology from Northwestern University. Dr. Cole's teaching and research is in the areas of cultural anthropology, African and women throughout the world. Dr. Cole serves on the board of the Carter Center, the National Visionary Leadership Project, and the United Way of Greater Greensboro. She also serves on the Board of Directors of Merck & Co., Inc., and the Atlanta Falcons. Dr. Cole consults on diversity matters with Citigroup. She is a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, The Links, Inc. and the National Council of Negro Women. In addition, she is the recipient of honorary degrees from 50 colleges and universities and has been honored with numerous other awards for outstanding service and educational accomplishments.
Drew S. Days is the Alfred M. Rankin Professor of Law at Yale University Law School. Days, who serves Of Counsel to the Washington, D.C., firm of Morrison & Foerster LLP, is a former Solicitor General of the United States (1993 - 1996) and former Assistant attorney General for Civil Rights in the U.S. Department of Justice. He initially practiced law in Chicago and was a volunteer attorney for the Illinois Civil Liberties Union. He was a Peace Corps volunteer in Honduras and joined the NAACP Legal Defense and Education fund as First Assistant Counsel upon his return to the United States. Prior to his appointment at Yale, Days taught at Temple University and the University of Ghana. He joined Yale University Law School in 1981 and, in 1989 became the founding Director of the school's Orvill H. Schell Jr. Center for International Human Rights Law. Days received his bachelor's degree from Hamilton College in New York and his bachelor of laws degree from Yale University Law School.
Dr. Rex M. Ellis is presently the Associate Director for Curatorial Affairs at the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) at the Smithsonian Institution. Dr. Ellis is charged with the responsibility for planning, developing, directing, and managing all curatorial, collections, education and outreach programs and activities. Curatorial Affairs is the primary implementing office of the museum’s mission. In this regard, the office develops preserves, documents, interprets, and makes accessible to diverse audiences the scholarship and collections of the museum through exhibitions, education, and public programs. The Museum, the first of its kind on the National Mall, is due to be completed by 2016.
Prior to this position, Dr. Ellis was Vice President of the Historic Area for the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, where he oversaw all programs and operations. Ellis was the first African American Vice President in the Foundation’s history and served in that position for eight years.
He received his Bachelor of Fine Arts from Virginia Commonwealth University, a Masters in Fine Arts from Wayne State University, a Masters of Divinity from Virginia Union University, and an Ed.D from the College of William and Mary.
He has contributed articles to such publications as The Journal of American History, The Colonial Williamsburg Journal, August House Publications, and History News. He is the author of two books, Beneath the Blazing Sun: Stories from the African American Journey and With a Banjo on My Knee which chronicles the history of black banjo players from the time of slavery to the present.
He has memberships in the Screen Actor's Guild, The American Association of Museums, The American Association for State and Local History, the National Association of Black Storytellers, and the National Storytelling Association. He has served as consultant to organizations such as the Midland Independent School District, in Texas; The Los Angeles County School District, Old Salem Village, the Henry Ford Museum, the Philadelphia Museum of Fine Arts, The National Constitution Center, Monticello, Mt. Vernon, the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities, and the Puerto Rican Preservation Trust. He has also worked with various institutions in Johannesburg, Capetown, Pretoria, and Robben Island, South Africa, as well as institutions in Masterton, New Zealand, Paris, France, Ghana, West Africa, and Jerusalem, and Tel Aviv, Israel.
His presentations, lectures, workshops and consultancies focus on, public programming, diversity, interpretation, and African American History and culture. His disciplinary interests also include the spoken word, and early American History, with special emphasis on slavery.
Leslie T. Fenwick, PhD is Dean of the Howard University School of Education and held consecutive appointments as a presidentially-appointed Visiting Scholar in Education and Visiting Fellow at Harvard University. An expert on education policy (particularly as it relates to educational equity), Fenwick has held administrative and tenured faculty appointments at HBCUs for nearly 20 years. In recent years, she served as an appointed member of a National Academy of Sciences committee which examined the impact of mayoral control on Washington DC Public Schools and has been called upon to testify about educational equity and teacher quality concerns to the U.S. Senate, the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), the Education Writers Association (EWA), and at the Congressional Black Caucus’ Annual Legislative Conference. Dr. Fenwick currently serves on the national advisory board for the George Lucas Education Foundation (GLEF).
Fenwick is a former legislative aid for the State of Ohio Senate and has worked as an urban school administrator and teacher (in public and parochial schools). Additionally, she is a contributor to the best-selling book, The Last Word: Controversy and Commentary in American Education, which boasts essays by former President Bill Clinton and noted historian Dr. John Hope Franklin among others. Her published research examines the superintendency, principalship, and urban school reform. She authored, The Principal Shortage: Who Will Lead? (President and Fellows of Harvard College, 2000), which is widely cited. Fenwick is an immediate past member of the board of directors for the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE). As the 2011 recipient of the W.E.B. DuBois Award from the National Alliance of Black School Educators (NABSE), Fenwick was recognized for her commitment to and advocacy for Black students (she has successfully taught Black students from kindergarten through the doctoral levels). Additionally, she was selected the 2013 WEB DuBois Distinguished Lecturer for the American Educational Research Association (AERA).
Dr. Fenwick earned the PhD at The Ohio State University where she was a Flescher Fellow and a bachelor’s degree from the Curry School of Education at the University of Virginia.
Dr. Deborah L. Mack is the Associate Director for Community and Constituent Services at the National African American Museum of History and Culture, Smithsonian Institution. She serves as the principal executive responsible for overall planning, management and coordination of community services programs and international activities, with functions that include building relationships, outreach, training, and technical support for African American communities; programs with international organizations; collaborative projects with other institutions, museums and agencies; and support of alliances and collaborations with cultural service institutions. From 2000 to 2012 she was an independent museum consultant consulting extensively on museum organizational planning and strategic planning, on interpretive and exhibition development, and on cultural and heritage tourism with organizations nationwide and internationally.
Appointed a Commissioner for the Gullah-Geechee National Heritage Commission, Department of the Interior (National Park Service, 2007 – 2010), Mack served beginning in 2005 on the Scholarly Advisory Committee for the planned National African American Museum of History and Culture, Smithsonian Institution. Mack has conducted museum collections, film production and anthropological research - primarily in Africa and the U.S. - for more than 20 years. She has similarly independently developed, led and lectured for heritage tourism programs in both the U.S. and in Africa.
A Fulbright Senior Specialist in 2010, Mack is an active member of several professional organizations, among them the Association of American Museums (AAM); Association of African American Museums (AAAM); AFRICOM (International Council of African Museums); ICOM; the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience; the Association for State and Local History (AASLH); NAME (National Association for Museum Exhibition;) the Southeast Museums Conference (SEMC). Mack served two three-year terms on the advisory Smithsonian Council from 1999 - 2005. She has served the Association of African American Museums, as consultant, nominating committee chair, conference program committee member, as Program Chair for the AAAM 2009 annual conference and currently as a board member again, through 2013. She presently serves on the AAAM board by-laws committee, chairs the redefined Governance Committee that leads the restructuring process for AAAM board oversight, accountability and planning of the forthcoming AAAM strategic planning process. Mack also serves as the AAAM board liaison for the development of a memorandum of understanding with the Africa – U.S. Partnership group, in which AAAM is a leading member along with AFRICOM (International Council of African Museums), IMLS, AAM, Michigan State University and the Smithsonian Institution. Mack has served on the 2011, 2012 and 2013 National Program Committee for the Association of American Museums annual national conference, serves on the editorial board of the Journal of Public History, and as a peer and field reviewer for the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS). She is an associate member of The Museum Group (www.museumgroup.com) - an association of senior museum consultants.
Deborah L. Mack holds a Ph.D. and an M.A., both in anthropology from Northwestern University, and a B.A. in geography from the University of Chicago.
The Reverend Dr. Alfred A. Moss is a Professor of African-American, U.S. Social and U.S. religious History at the University of Maryland. He is the author of "The American Negro Academy: Voice of the Talented Tenth" and co-author, with John Hope Franklin, of the sixth, seventh and eighth editions of "From Slavery to Freedom: A History of African-Americans." He is co-editor of "The Facts of Reconstruction: Essays in Honor of John Hope Franklin," which was chosen by the Gustav Myers foundation as An Outstanding Book on the Subject of Human Rights in the United States. Moss is currently writing a multi-volume study of the relationship between philanthropic agencies and schools for African-Americans. He is a member of the editorial boards of the journals Washington History and Studies in Anglican and Episcopal History. A Trustee and first Vice President of the Historical Society of the Episcopal Church, Moss received his doctoral degree from the University of Chicago.
Dr. Richard J. Powell is the John Spencer Bassett Professor at Duke University. Powell's research and teaching interests lie in American art, African-American art, and theories of race and representation in the African diaspora. His books include "Homecoming: The Art and Life of William H. Johnson" and "Black art: A Cultural History." Powell received his doctoral degree from Yale University.
Dr. Clement Alexander Price served as a founding member of the NMAAHC Scholarly Advisory Committee until his death in November 2014. A recipient of numerous awards and honors, Dr. Clement A. Price was named CASE (Council for Advancement and Support of Education) Professor of the Year for New Jersey in 1999, and was named Board of Governors Distinguished Service Professor at Rutgers, one of the highest faculty honors at the university. The latter honor noted Price's dedication "to the ideas of community, and his sustained impact on the development of cultural, civic, educational and academic institutions in the City of Newark and the State of New Jersey" and his "unwavering commitment to the communities in which he lives, and his concern for social justice."
Price, who taught history, played leadership roles with many organizations in New Jersey, including the New Jersey Historical Commission, the New Jersey State Council on the Arts, the Fund for New Jersey, the Newark public schools, the Newark Black Film Festival, and the Governor's Commission on Ellis Island. Price's affection for Newark came from his deep appreciation of the city's historical significance and constant change. He was the founder and director of the Institute on Ethnicity, Culture and the Modern Experience, which conducts research and presents innovative public programs on a range of topics.
Dr. Bernice Johnson Reagon - scholar, composer, singer, activist - has been the 2002-04 Cosby Chair Professor of Fine Arts at Spelman College in Atlanta GA. She is also Professor Emeritus of History at American University and Curator Emeritus at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History in Washington DC. Reagon is also the recipient of the 2003 Heinz Award for the Arts and Humanities given by the Heinz Family Foundation.
As a musician, Reagon for over 30 years has led and performed with Sweet Honey In The Rock, internationally renowned a cappella ensemble she founded in 1973. She has produced most of the group's recordings including the Grammy nominated Still The Same Me (Rounder Records release for younger audiences, 2001). Her work as a scholar and composer is reflected in publications and productions on African American culture and history, including: a collection of essays entitled If You Don't Go, Don't Hinder Me: The African American Sacred Song Tradition (University of Nebraska Press, 2001); We'll Understand It Better By And By: Pioneering African American Gospel Composers (Smithsonian Press, 1992); and We Who Believe In Freedom: Sweet Honey In The Rock: Still on the Journey, (Anchor Books, 1993).
Reagon has served as music consultant, composer and performer for several radio, film and video projects, including the path-breaking Peabody Award-winning 1994 radio series Wade in the Water: African American Sacred Music Traditions (Produced by National Public Radio and the Smithsonian Institution); composer, compiler and performer in the creation of the sound scores for WGBH's Peabody Award winning Africans in America film series for PBS (1998); and Freedom Never Dies: The Legacy of Harry T. Moore, (The Documentary Institute at the University of Florida and WUFT-TV, 2001). Reagon is featured in The Singing Warrior (Veterans of Hope Video Series, Iliff School of Theology).
Dr. Alvia J. Wardlaw is the curator of the exhibit, Something All Our Own: The Grant Hill Collection of African American Art. Ms. Wardlaw grew up in the historic neighborhood of Third Ward in Houston, Texas. After graduating from Jack Yates High School she attended Wellesley College where she earned a B.A. in art history in 1969. A string of exhibitions and publications followed for venues throughout the country: including African Tribal Art, the Menu Foundation, 1973; Roy DeCarava: Photographs, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 1975; Ceremonies and Visions: The Art of John Biggers, Laguna Gloria Art Museum, Austin, Texas, 1980; Homecoming. African American Family History in Georgia, Atlanta, Georgia, 1982; John Biggers: Bridges, California Museum of African American Life and Culture, Los Angeles, California, 1986. Ms. Wardlaw was awarded the M.A. in art history from The Institute of Fine Arts, New York University Institute of Fine Arts in 1986.
It was 1989 when Ms. Wardlaw was recognized as one of the leading African-American art historians in the country when she was co-curator with Barry Gaither and Dr. Regena Perry of the watershed exhibition Black Art Ancestral Legacy: The African Impulse in African American Art for the Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas, Texas. The catalogue for this exhibition has become widely used in the art curriculums of colleges and universities in the United States. In 1995 Ms. Wardlaw organized The Art of John Biggers: View from the Upper Room for the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, which traveled nationally to seven venues. In 1996 Wardlaw became the first African American to receive the Ph.D. in art history from the University of Texas at Austin. Her dissertation focused on the art of John Biggers.
The list of honors and awards bestowed on Dr. Wardlaw include: Fulbright Fellow, West Africa: Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Senegal, 1984; Best Exhibition of 1990 for Black Art Ancestral Legacy, D Magazine, Dallas, Texas; the Texas Women's Hall of Fame, 1994; a Fulbright Award for study in Tanzania, East Africa, July 1997. Senior Fellow, American Leadership Forum, 2001.
Dr. Wardlaw is Associate Professor of Art History at Texas Southern University and Director/Curator of the University Museum at Texas Southern University. She serves as Curator of Contemporary and Modern Art at The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston and is currently organizing an exhibition of the art of Kermit Oliver as well as an exhibition surveying the quilting tradition of African American women in Gees Bend, Alabama.
Dr. Deborah Willis has pursued a dual professional career. First an art photographer, she later became a historian of African American photography and a curator of exhibits relating to African American culture. She is the 1996 recipient of the Anonymous Was A Woman Foundation Prize, and in 2000 was named a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Fellow.
Willis is the author of numerous books, including Reflections in Black: A History of Black Photographers, 1840 to the Present, published in 2000. In 1996, she co-edited Visual Journal: Photography in Harlem and DC in the Thirties and Forties and Picturing Us: African American Identity in Photography. With Carla Williams, she co-authored The Black Female Body: A Photographic History in 2001. Her latest publication is titled Family History Memory: Recording African American Life.
Over the course of her career, she has been involved in various exhibits, including Tied to Memory at the Kemper Museum of Art in Kansas City; The Comforts of Home at the Hand Workshop Art Center in Richmond, VA; Re/Righting History: Counter-narratives by Contemporary African-American Artists at the Katonah Museum of Art in Katonah, NY; Memorable Histories and Historic Memories at the Bowdoin College Museum of Art; and Cultural Baggage at Rice University in Houston, Texas. Deborah Willis is currently Professor of Photography and Imaging and Africana Studies at New York University.