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Meet the First African American Director of a Smithsonian Institution Museum

John Robert Edward Kinard was a social activist, pastor and museum director. He is probably best known for his work as director of the Anacostia Museum, founded by the Smithsonian Institution in 1967. Kinard served as the first African American director of the museum where he remained until his death.

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Kinard was born in November 1936 in Southeast, Washington, D.C. to Robert Francis and Jessie Beulah (Covington) Kinard. After graduating high school, he attended Howard University in Washington, D.C., and later transferred to Livingstone College in Salisbury, North Carolina where he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in 1960.

In 1962, while attending Hood Theological Seminary, Kinard joined Operation Crossroads Africa (a progenitor of the Peace Corps) and spent a summer building student housing and dining facilities in Tanzania. Dr. James Herman Robinson, founder of Operation Crossroads, encouraged him to return to Africa. Kinard did so after graduation, becoming a paid staff member of the organization.

By 1964, Kinard had returned to Washington, D.C. He found work as a counselor with the Neighborhood Youth Corps, a program established by the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964 to provide work experience for at-risk African American youth and encourage them to stay in school.

In 1966, S. Dillon Ripley, Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, began pushing for a new and innovative kind of Smithsonian museum. Kinard was named the director of the Anacostia Museum in July 1967. He held the position until his death in 1989.

In 1978, Kinard helped co-found the African American Museum Association (AAMA), an umbrella group which represented small local African American art, culture, and history museums across the United States. Kinard suffered from myelofibrosis, a disease in which bone marrow cells become abnormal and create collagenous connective tissue fibers rather than new bone marrow. Although he had been heavy-set most of his life, he began to lose weight during the last months of his life. He died on August 5, 1989.

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