Ralph Bunche was an American political scientist and diplomat and an active leader who contributed heavily in the Civil Rights Movements in the United Students. Dr. Ralph Bunche also played an instrumental role in the formation and administration of the United Nations and served as the assistant to United Nations Special committee on Palestine and thereafter as the Principal Secretary of the U.N. Palestine Commission. Most of all, he is noted for his contribution towards establishing a peace agreement between Israel and the Arab states in 1949 when the Armistice agreements were signed between these two countries. In addition to this, Ralph Bunche had an important role in the creation and adoption of the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights. In 1950, Dr. Bunche was awarded Nobel Peace Prize for his mediation in Palestine and another award ‘Medal of Freedom’ was presented from President John F. Kennedy in 1963.
Childhood and Early Life
Ralph Bunche was born on 7 August 1903, in Detroit to a barber father and a musician mother. His family moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico, in the hope that the poor health of his parents would improve in the dry climate. His parents died two years later, and Ralph, along with his sister, was raised by his grandmother. There Ralph supported his family’s hard pressed finance by selling news papers, working for a carpet laying firm and taking any odd job he could find. Bunche as a child was a brilliant student, debater and valedictorian of his graduating class at Jefferson High School.
He attended the University of California, Los Angeles and graduated summa cum laude in 1927. With a scholarship granted by Harvard University and a fund of a thousand dollars raised by the black community of Los Angeles, he went to study at Harvard. There he earned a master’s degree in political science in 1928 and a doctorate in 1934, where he was already teaching in the department of Political Science. From 1934 to 1938, on a Social Science Research Council Fellowship, he did post doctoral research in anthropology at Northwestern University, the London School of Economics, and Cape Town University in South Africa.
Ralph maintained strong ties with education throughout his life and remained an avid learner. He chaired the Department of Political Science at Harvard University from 1928 until 1950, where he lived in the Brook land neighborhood of Washington, D.C., and was a member of the American Federation of Teachers affiliate at Harvard. He then served as a member of the New York City Board of Education from 1958 to 1964 and as a member of the Board of Overseers of Harvard University for 5 years, beginning from 1960. Bunche was a trustee of Oberlin College, Lincoln University, and New Lincoln School.
In 1936 Bunche authored a book entitled A World View of Race, in which his view on War on Race. From 1936 to 1940 Bunche served as contributing editor of the journal Science and Society. During World War II, Bunche served the Office of Strategic Services as senior social analyst on Colonial Affairs before joining the State Department in 1943, where he was appointed Associate Chief of the division of Dependent Area Affairs under Alger Hiss. With Hiss, Bunche became one of the leaders of the Institute of the Pacific Relation (IPR). He had a leading role in the formation of the United Nations in 1945.
United Nations and Palestine
Towards the end of the World War II, Bunche actively participated in the preliminary planning for the United Nations and became an adviser to the U.S. delegation for the “Charter Conference” of the United Nations held in 1945. Ralph Bunche also had an important role in the creation and adoption of the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights. According to the United Nations documents, “He championed the principle of equal rights for everyone, regardless of race and creed.”
In the year 1947, Bunche became involved with the Arab- Israeli Conflict. He served as assistant to the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine. In 1948, he traveled to the Middle East as the chief aid to Count Folke Bernadotte, who had been appointed by the U.N. to mediate the conflict. After the assassination of Bernadotte, Bunche became the chief mediator and after eleven months of incessant negotiation, he accomplished the task with the signing of the 1949 Armistice agreements- the work for which he was awarded Nobel Peace Prize in 1950. Thereafter, he continued to work for the people, who had not yet attained self-government and became the undersecretary-general in year 1968.
A Prominent African American
Ralph Bunche had always been active in the Civil Rights Movement in the United States, though he never held an important position in the group. He criticized both America’s social system and the established Negro organization, but generally he is thought of as a moderate. From his experience as co-director of the Institute of Race Relations at Swarthmore College in 1936, he authored the book “A World View of Race.” He was a member of the Black Cabinet and helped to lead the Civil rights March led by Martin Luther King, in Montgomery, in 1965. In his view, racial prejudice is an unreasoned phenomenon without scientific basis in biology or anthropology; segregation and democracy are incompatible.” He believed that democracy is color blind.
Death and Honors
Bunche died in 1971 and is buried in Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx. He was 68 at the time of his death. 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 12 January, a United States postage stamp was issued in the memory of Dr. Bunche. The Ralph Bunche Library, founded by the first secretary of the State, in 1978, is the oldest Federal government library. Apart from these, many schools, parks and research centers are named after him.