Ralph Bunche - First African American Nobel Peace Prize Winner
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Ralph Bunche

Dr. Ralph Johnson Bunche (August 7, 1903 – December 9, 1971) was an American political scientist, diplomat who received the 1950 Nobel Peace Prize for his late 1940s mediation in Palestine. He was the first person of color to be so honored in the history of the Prize.[1] In 1963, he received the Medal of Freedom from President John F. Kennedy.[2]

Bunche was born in Detroit, Michigan to an African-American family; his father was a barber, his mother an amateur musician. They moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico, when he was a child to improve his parents' health. His parents died soon after, and he was raised in Los Angeles by his grandmother who looked "white" but was an active member of the black community.

Bunche was a brilliant student, a top debater, and the valedictorian of his graduating class at Jefferson High School. He attended the University of California, Los Angeles and graduated summa cum laude in 1927 -- again as the valedictorian of his class. Using the money his community raised for his studies, and a scholarship from the University, he studied at Harvard. There he earned a master's degree in political science in 1928 and a doctorate in 1934, though he was already by that time teaching in Howard University's Department of Political Science, which he chaired from 1928 until 1950. He lived in the Brookland neighborhood of Washington, D.C., and was a member of the American Federation of Teachers affiliate at Harvard.

"Throughout his career, Bunche has maintained strong ties with education. He chaired the Department of Political Science at Howard University from 1928 until 1950; taught at Harvard University from 1950 to 1952; served as a member of the New York City Board of Education (1958-1964), as a member of the Board of Overseers of Harvard University (1960-1965), as a member of the Board of the Institute of International Education, and as a trustee of Oberlin College, Lincoln University, and New Lincoln School."[1]

In 1936 Bunche authored a pamphlet entitled A World View of Race. In it Bunche wrote: "And so class will some day supplant race in world affairs. Race war will then be merely a side-show to the gigantic class war which will be waged in the big tent we call the world." In 1936-40 Bunche served as contributing editor of the journal Science and Society: A Marxian Quarterly.[2]

Bunche spent time during World War II in the Office of Strategic Services (the predecessor of the CIA) as senior social analyst on Colonial Affairs before joining the State Department. In 1943 Bunche went to the State Department where he became associate chief of the division of dependent area affairs under Alger Hiss. He became, with Hiss, one of the leaders of the Institute of Pacific Relations (IPR).

He participated in the preliminary planning for the United Nations at the San Francisco Conference of 1945.

At the close of the second World War, Bunche was active in preliminary planning for the United Nations (Dumbarton Oaks Conversations held in Washington D.C. in 1944). He was also an advisor to the U.S. delegation for the "Charter Conference" of the United Nations held in 1945. Additionally, he was closely involved in drafting the charter of the United Nations. Ralph Bunche along with Eleanor Roosevelt were considered instrumental in the creation and adoption of the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights.

According to the United Nations document "Ralph Bunche: Visionary for Peace," during his 25 years of service to the United Nations he:

...championed the principle of equal rights for everyone, regardless of race or creed. He believed in “the essential goodness of all people, and that no problem in human relations is insoluble”. Through the UN Trusteeship Council, Bunche readied the international stage for an unprecedented period of transformation, dismantling the old colonial systems in Africa and Asia, and guiding scores of emerging nations through the transition to independence in the post-war era.

Palestine and Nobel Peace Prize

Beginning in 1947, Bunche was involved with the Arab-Israeli conflict. He served as assistant to the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine, and thereafter as the principal secretary of the U.N. Palestine Commission. In 1948 he traveled to the Middle East as the chief aide to Count Folke Bernadotte, who had been appointed by the U.N. to mediate the conflict. In September, Bernadotte was assassinated by members of the underground Jewish group Lehi. Bunche became the U.N.'s chief mediator and concluded the task with the signing of the 1949 Armistice Agreements, the work for which he received the Peace Prize and many other honors.

He continued to work for the United Nations, mediating in other strife-torn regions including The Congo, Yemen, Kashmir, and Cyprus, eventually rising to the position of undersecretary-general in 1968.

In 1950, Bunche won the Nobel Peace Prize.[3]

As a prominent African-American, Bunche was an active and vocal supporter of the civil rights movement, though he never actually held a titled position in one of the movement's the major organizations.[3]

Bunche was a resident of the Kew Gardens neighborhood of Queens, New York.[4]

A bust of Ralph Bunche, on the entrance to Bunche Hall, overlooks the Sculpture Garden at UCLA.

The Ralph J. Bunche Library of the U.S. Department of State is the oldest Federal Government library. It was founded by the first Secretary of State, Thomas Jefferson in 1789. It was dedicated to and renamed the Ralph J. Bunche Library on May 5, 1997. It is located in the Harry S. Truman building, the main State Department headquarters.

Ralph Bunche Park is in New York City, across First Avenue from the United Nations headquarters. Ralph Bunche's house is in the Brookland neighborhood of Washington, DC, where he resided for many years.

The neighborhood of Bunche Park in the city of Miami Gardens Florida, is named in honor of Mr. Bunche.

Dr. Ralph J. Bunche Peace and Heritage Center, boyhood home in the Central Avenue Neighborhood of Los Angeles has been listed to the National Register of Historic Places and is a City of Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Landmark. The owner of the Property, Dunbar Economic Development Corporation, Los Angeles, operates the home as a rehabilitated interpretive Museum and Community Center to promote Peaceful interaction of all groups within South Central Los Angeles at the Bunche family home. The period of significance of historic house Museum is from the 1920s. The property was fully restored between 2002 and 2004, winning a Los Angeles Conservancy Award for Historic Preservation, 2006. Design Aid Architects, Historic Preservation Consultant for the Property Rehabilitation, Preservation Planner, and Historian for submital of Historic-Cultural Landmark Nomination; Jeffrey B. Samudio, Managing Partner, Lambert M. Giessinger Architect, Partner, 2002-2003, Greg Lekosis, Architect, Partner, 2003-2004.