Louis Purnell Named Curator at National Air and Space Museum 1980




Date: 1980


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Louis R. Purnell becomes curator of the Department of Space Science of the National Air and Space Museum, thus becoming the Smithsonian Institution's first African American curator. Purnell was a Tuskegee Airman who started working for the Smithsonian Institution in 1961 as a Museum Specialist with the National Museum of Natural History. He would become an instrumental part of building the astronautics branch of NASM, becoming the world's foremost expert on space suits. He was also instrumental in bringing the Tuskegee Airmen exhibit to life.


  • Purnell, Louis R
  • National Air and Space Museum
  • United States Army Air Forces Fighter Group, 332nd
  • National Museum of Natural History (U.S.)
  • Black Wings: The American Black in Aviation (Exhibition) (1982-2016: National Air and Space Museum)


Chronology of Smithsonian History


  • Louis R. Purnell, Oral history Interviews, Smithsonian Institution Archives, Record Unit 9578
  • Bellizzi, Courtney. "Louis Purnell, Airman and Curator." Smithsonian Institution Archives. February 22, 2011. http://siarchives.si.edu/blog/Louis-purnell-airman-and-curator.

Contact information

Institutional History Division, Smithsonian Institution Archives, 600 Maryland Avenue, SW, Washington, D.C. 20024-2520, SIHistory@si.edu




  • Smithsonian Institution
  • Personnel management
  • Employees
  • Exhibitions
  • Museums
  • Air pilots
  • Astronautics
  • Museum curators
  • Smithsonian Institution--Employees
  • African American air pilots
  • African Americans

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