Birthday: August 7, 1904
Died At Age: 67
Sun Sign: Leo
Born Country: United States
Born in: Detroit, Michigan, United States
Famous as: American Political Scientist and Diplomat
African American Men
Nobel Peace Prize
Spouse/Ex-: Ruth Ethel Harris
father: Fred Bunch
mother: Olive Johnson
children: Jane, Joan, Ralph Bunche Jr.
Died on: December 9, 1971
place of death: New York City
City: Detroit, Michigan
U.S. State: Michigan
education: University of California, Los Angeles, Howard University, Harvard University
awards: 1949 - Spingarn Medal award
1951 - Silver Buffalo Award
Ralph Johnson Bunche was an American academic, UN diplomat as well as a political scientist. Having won the Nobel Peace Prize in the year 1950, he was the first African American to do so. He had been trying to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict in Palestine ever since his appointment as an assistant to the UN Special Committee on Palestine and later as the Principal Secretary of the UN Palestine Commission. Eventually, after he became the Chief Mediator of the UN following the assassination of a colleague, he managed to make a peace-agreement. Bunche was also an active supporter of the civil rights movement in the United States, and he was involved with Martin Luther King’s movement on a few occasions. He was also involved in forming, organizing and administering the UN. He was an academic as well, and spent more than twenty years working in Harvard University’s Department of Political Science. He also served in the same university as a member in the Board of Overseers, and as a trustee in several educational institutions such as Oberlin College and New Lincoln School. In 2008, it was also revealed that during the Second World War, he was a member of the OSS (Office of Strategic Services), the precursor organization to the CIA (Central Intelligence Agency).
Childhood & Early Life
Ralph Bunche was born on 7 August 1903 in Detroit. His father was Fred Bunche, a barber, and his mother was Olive Agnes, an amateur musician. He lost his mother as a teenager and was later abandoned by his father as well.
Later, Bunche and his sister were taken in by his maternal grandmother, Lucy Taylor Johnson, and they grew up in Los Angeles. His grandmother strongly supported and encouraged the young boy in his education. On several occasions, he had to support the poverty-stricken family by doing odd jobs such as cleaning, carpet-laying, etc.
He graduated in 1927 from the University of California at Los Angeles, where he had studied on scholarships. Later, he pursued and earned a Master’s degree from Harvard University in 1928, after which he started teaching there. Six years later, in 1934, he earned a Ph. D. as well, in Government and International Relations.
In 1936, he went to London School of Economics in England, to pursue postdoctoral research in anthropology, and later to the University of Cape Town in South Africa to pursue further research.
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Ralph Bunche, being the descendent of a slave, could understand the plight of the African Americans which is why he was deeply concerned about race relations. He was an expert in the problems of colonialism, and he served as co-director of the Instititute of Race Relations at Swarthmore College.
In 1940 he worked as an investigative researcher and a writer for ‘An American Dilemma,’ a Swedish sociologist’s study of racism in America. During the Second World War, he joined the OSS (Office of Strategic Services) as a senior social analyst. He also worked as a part of the National Defense Program, and later in the U.S. State Department, where he became one of the main planners behind the formation of the United Nations.
In 1947, the then UN’S Secretary General, Trygve Lie asked him to join the UN Secretariat as director of the Trusteeship Division. The same year, he joined the UN Special Committee on Palestine as well. The Arabs were refusing to accept the UN plan of dividing Palestine into Arab and Jewish states, leading to the first Arab-Israeli war.
When Ralph Bunche’s supervisor, who was the UN’s chief negotiator, got assassinated in 1948, Bunche took his place and successfully led the difficult negotiations between the Arabs and the Israeli groups, finally reaching an agreement in 1949. It was this achievement that won him the Nobel Peace Prize the following year.
He later held other important positions in the UN, including being the director of the peacekeeping operations in the Suez Area of the Middle East in 1956, in Congo in 1960, and in Cyprus in 1964.
He was also deeply involved in the civil rights movement, along with having served as a member of the board of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
‘World View of Race’ was the first book written and published by Ralph Bunche. The book deals with how racial classifications appeared in North America as well as many other parts of the world, as a form of social division, based on the belief that it was nature’s way of division between human groups. He also analysed social policies, folk beliefs and practices of North Americans regarding race.
‘An African American in South Africa’ was another one of his well-known books, where he recounted his experiences in South Africa, a country he had visited on a travel grant and spent three months.
Awards & Achievements
The biggest honor in the life of Ralph Bunche was winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 1950, for managing to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict in Palestine, an achievement that earned him worldwide reputation.
In 1951, the National Boy Scouts of America awarded Bunche with the Silver Buffalo Award for his work in scouting and making positive impact for the world. In 1963, John F. Kennedy awarded him with the ‘Medal of Freedom’, which is an honor recognizing those individuals who made meritorious contribution for the interest of the country, or for world peace. It was given because of his contributions during World War II.
The Liberty District-Ralph Bunche Community Center, an organization for supporting community relations and cultural understanding, was named in his honor because of his contributions for colored people.
A Great American series 20¢ postage stamp was issued by the United States Postal Service in 1982 in his honor.
Personal Life & Legacy
Ralph Bunche met Ruth Harris, one of his students, in 1928, while he was teaching in Harvard University. They started dating and got married after two years on 23 June 1930. They had three children, Joan Harris Bunche, Jane Johnson Bunche, and Ralph Bunche Jr.
During his later years he suffered from diabetes mellitus and resigned from the UN because of ill health. His health worsened and he passed away on 9 December 1971. He was 68. He was buried in Woodlawn Cemetery in New York City.