Nobel Peace Prize Laureate
Ralph Johnson Bunche was born
in Detroit, Michigan, on August 7, 1904. His
father, Fred Bunche, was a barber in a
whites-only shop; his mother, Olive (Johnson)
Bunche, was an amateur musician; and his
grandmother, "Nana" Johnson, had been
born into slavery. The family moved to
Albuquerque, New Mexico, when Ralph was ten. Both
of his parents died two years later, and his
grandmother took Ralph and his two sisters to Los
A very good student, Bunche won prizes in both
history and English in elementary school and was
the valedictorian of his graduating class at
Jefferson High School in Los Angeles, where he
had also been a debater and all-around athlete.
An athletic scholarship (basketball) paid for his
collegiate expenses at the University of
California at Los Angeles, while a janitorial job
paid for his personal expenses. He graduated summa
cum laude, valedictorian of his class, with a
major in international relations in 1927.
Subsequently awarded a scholarship from Harvard
University, he received his Master's Degree in
Political Science from that institution in 1928,
and his Doctorate in 1934.
While working on his doctorate, Bunche taught
political science at Howard University. The
Rosenwald Fellowship, which he held in 1932-1933,
enabled him to conduct research in Africa for a
dissertation comparing the administration of
a mandated area, and Dahomey, a colony. His
dissertation was awarded the Toppan Prize for
outstanding research in social studies. From 1936
to 1938, on a Social Science Research Council
fellowship, he did postdoctoral research in
anthropology at Northwestern University, the
London School of Economics, and Capetown
University in South Africa. Between 1938 and
1940, Bunch collaborated with Swedish sociologist
Gunnar Myrdal in the monumental study of U.S.
race relations that resulted in the publication
of An American Dilemma: The Negro
Problem and Modern Democracy in 1944.
An adviser to the Department of State and to
the military on Africa and colonial areas of
strategic military importance during World
War II, Bunche moved from his first position
as an analyst in the Office of Strategic Services
to the desk of acting chief of the Division of
Dependent Area Affairs in the State
Department. He also served as an adviser or
delegate to nine international conferences in
four years, including the one that drafted the
charter of the United Nations. In 1946, U.N.
Secretary-General Trygve Lie placed Bunche in
charge of the Department of Trusteeship of the
U.N. to handle problems of the world's peoples
who had not yet attained self-government.
From June of 1947 to August of 1949, Bunche
worked on what became the most important
assignment of his career, the confrontation
between Arabs and Jews in Palestine. First
appointed as assistant to the UN Special
Committee on Palestine, he then became principal
secretary of the UN Palestine Commission, which
was charged with carrying out the partition
approved by the UN General Assembly. In early
1948, when this plan was dropped and fighting
between Arabs and Israelis became especially
severe, the UN appointed Count Folke Bernadotte
as mediator and Ralph Bunche as his chief aide.
On September 17, 1948, Count Bernadotte was
assassinated, and Bunche was named acting UN
mediator on Palestine. Eleven months later,
Bunche obtained signatures on armistice
agreements between Israel and the Arab States.
For this accomplishment, he was awarded the Nobel
Peace Prize in 1950.
From 1955 to 1967, Bunche served as U.N.
Undersecretary for Special Political Affairs. In
1956, he supervised the deployment of a 6,000-man
United Nations peacekeeping force in the area of
Canal following the invasion of that area by
British, French, and Israeli troops. In 1960 he
again found himself in charge of U.N.
peacekeeping troops, this time in the Congo
region. And, in 1964, he went to Cyprus to direct the 6,000
troops that intervened between Greeks and Turks.
During this time Bunche also played an important
role in the creation and adoption of the
Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and in the
United Nations program concerning peaceful uses
of atomic energy. He became Under Secretary
General of the United Nations in 1968.
In addition to his diplomatic work, Bunche was
also an advocate for civil rights. He
participated in Martin Luther King's March on
Washington in 1963, as well as civil rights
marches in Montgomery and Selma, Alabama, and
supported the action programs of the National
Association for the Advancement of Colored People
(NAACP) and of the Urban League.
Suffering from heart disease and diabetes,
Bunche resigned from the United Nations on
October 1, 1971. He died in New
York City on December 9, 1971, and is
buried at Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx.
Encyclopędia Britannica http://www.britannica.com/biography/Ralph-Bunche
Nobel Prize http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/peace/laureates/1950/bunche-bio.html
Association for the Advancement of Colored People
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