Ralph Bunche life and biography

Ralph Bunche picture, image, poster

Ralph Bunche biography

Date of birth : 1904-08-07
Date of death : 1971-12-09
Birthplace : Detroit, Michigan, United States
Nationality : American
Category : Science and Technology
Last modified : 2010-07-13
Credited as : Political scientist and diplomat, received Medal of Freedom from president Kennedy, Nobel Peace Prize

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Ralph Johnson Bunche (August 7, 1904 – December 9, 1971) was an American political scientist and 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. He was involved in the formation and administration of the United Nations. In 1963, he received the Medal of Freedom from President John F. Kennedy.

Prominent Figure.
In 1950 Ralph Bunche became the first black person awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his role in fostering an armistice between warring Arabs and Israelis. The award brought to public attention a long record of public service. Bunche was a central figure among blacks, and although less well known during the 1940s than W. E. B. Du Bois or A. Philip Randolph, like them he prepared the way for the civil rights revolution of the 1950s and 1960s. An early leader in forming American policy in Africa, Bunche played a major intellectual role in the decolonization movement after World War II.

Respected Scholar.
The grandson of slaves, Bunche was born on 7 August 1904 in Detroit. Showing intellectual promise early, he excelled academically and graduated with honors from the University of California, Los Angeles. He attended graduate school at Harvard University and became a faculty member at Howard University in Washington, D.C., the "Black Athens" of America. He then returned to Harvard to complete his Ph.D. in government and international relations in 1934. Widely considered one of the foremost students of race relations, he became the chief assistant to the Swedish sociologist Gunnar Myrdal, contributing to his groundbreaking study An American Dilemma: The Negro Problem and Modern Democracy (1944). Joining the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) in World War II as an analyst, Bunche quickly became the intelligence agency's expert on Africa and the Far East and wrote the handbook given to every GI entering the North African combat theater.

Skillful Diplomat.
In 1944 Bunche joined the State Department's Division of Dependent Area Affairs, then in 1947 was appointed to the United Nations to deal with territories under UN trusteeship. In that capacity he was assigned to Palestine at the moment when many surviving European Jews were flocking to their ancestral homeland to seek a nation of their own. Britain had indicated its willingness to grant independence to Palestine, but monarchs in neighboring states insisted that it become an Arab nation. The partition of Palestine into Jewish and Arab states precipitated the first Arab-Israeli War. When the UN mediator in the conflict, Count Folke Bernadotte of Sweden, was assassinated by Jewish terrorists, Bunche replaced him and used his extraordinary diplomatic skills to craft a cease-fire acceptable to both sides. His diplomacy led him to be considered by President Harry S Truman for the post of undersecretary of state, but the nomination was abandoned as too provocative a challenge to the prevailing color line. The Swedish government noticed Bunche's talents, however, and awarded him the Nobel Peace Prize. In 1955 he was appointed Undersecretary of the United Nations, the highest position held by an American in the organization at the time, and he continued to mediate conflicts throughout the world. He became undersecretary-general in 1967.

Under Attack.
As a black intellectual deeply concerned about segregation in America, Bunche was drawn to radical critiques of Western imperialism and colonialism, especially to class-based economic analyses of exploitation. Like many intellectuals during the 1930s, he was involved in Marxist study groups and radical organizations. He inevitably became the focus of McCarthyite witch hunts in the 1950s, resulting in FBI and Senate investigations into his past. His relationship with Alger Hiss, when the two were State Department colleagues, was criticized, and his writings and his memberships in the National Negro League and teachers' unions were scrutinized. The fact that he had associated with Communists was presented as evidence that he was a secret Communist. Responding to these attacks, he defended his intellectual freedom to read and write as he pleased under the First Amendment and to associate with anyone of his choosing, but he denied ever having been a member of the Communist Party, and his work in the OSS, the State Department, and the UN indicated a deep antipathy to Soviet policies. The attack on Bunche was part of an orchestrated campaign to characterize the civil rights struggle as a Communist plot. Later, despite endorsements by W. Averell Harriman, David Rockefeller, and other pillars of the establishment, Bunche was not offered the post of ambassador to the Soviet Union by President John F. Kennedy because of the lingering effect of these attacks.

Civil Rights Advocate.
Ironically, because he became part of the American political establishment, Bunche was also attacked by Du Bois and others on the left wing of the African American community. Yet in his writings on race Bunche condemned the American system of segregation, advocating nothing less than full equality for blacks. He especially stressed the importance of economic justice and became a trusted adviser of Martin Luther King, Jr., advocating peaceful means for fundamental change. He condemned the war in Vietnam as a misappropriation of valuable resources for destructive purposes and urged, with King, a redirection of military spending to domestic purposes to curb poverty. Though he is little remembered today, Bunche was renowned as one of the most intelligent and humane diplomats the United States has ever produced.


In 1951 Bunche was awarded the Silver Buffalo Award by the National Boy Scouts of America for his work in scouting and positive impact for the world.

On January 12, 1982, the United States Postal Service issued a Great Americans series 20¢ postage stamp in his honor. A bust of Dr. Bunche is located at the entrance to Bunche Hall at UCLA, in front of the Franklin Murphy Sculpture Garden. 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.

In 1996, Howard University named its international affairs center, a physical facility and associated administrative programs, the Ralph J. Bunche International Affairs Center. The Center is the site of lectures and internationally-oriented programming as well as serving as "Howard's point of contact for . . . foreign embassies, governments, univer­sities and corporations, as well as U.S. government agencies."

Ralph Bunche Park is in New York City, across First Avenue from the United Nations headquarters. The neighborhood of Bunche Park in the city of Miami Gardens Florida, was named in honor of Mr. Bunche. Ralph J. Bunche also had elementary schools named after him in Ecorse, Michigan; Canton, Georgia; Miami, Florida; and New York City and a high school named after him in King George County, Virginia. One of the historic black beaches in Florida, from the age of segregation, is Bunche Beach, near Ft. Myers.

The Dr. Ralph J. Bunche Peace and Heritage Center, his boyhood home with his grandmother in the Central Avenue Neighborhood of Los Angeles, has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places and City of Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Landmarks, HCM #159. The owner of the property, Dunbar Economic Development Corporation of 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. The period of significance of the 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 in 2006. Design Aid Architects was the Historic Preservation Consultant for the property rehabilitation.

In 2002, scholar Molefi Kete Asante listed Ralph Bunche on his list of 100 Greatest African Americans.

In 2004, Ralph Bunche was posthumously honored with the William J. Donovan Award from The OSS Society.

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