Birth of Ralph Bunche
Ralph Johnson Bunche was born on August 7, 1904, in Detroit, Michigan.
In his youth, Bunche and his family moved around a bit, spending time in Toledo, Ohio; Albuquerque, New Mexico; and Los Angeles, California. He was a bright student, a member of the debate team, and the valedictorian of his high school class.
Bunche went on to attend the University of California, Los Angeles, where he again graduated as valedictorian. From there, he went on to Harvard, where he earned his doctorate in political science. Bunche was the first African American to earn a PhD in political science at an American college. While he was still earning his doctorate, Bunche began teaching political science at Howard University. He then published his first book, World View of Race, in 1936.
During World War II, Bunche worked for the Office of Strategic Services, which later became the CIA. He worked as a senior social analyst for Colonial Affairs. Then in 1943, he was moved to the State Department, where he worked as Associate Chief of the Division of Dependent Area Affairs. In that role, he was a leader of the Institute of Pacific Relations.
While serving in the Department of State, Bunche was a delegate or an advisor to nine international conferences in just four years. In 1944, he joined in the early planning for the United Nations Conference in San Francisco. Bunche was also an adviser to the US delegation for the Charter Conference. Bunch, along with Eleanor Roosevelt, is considered a major force in the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In 1946, he became director of the division of trusteeships in the Secretariat. And from 1955 to 1971, Bunche served as undersecretary of the UN.
In 1947, Bunche joined in the negotiations to end the Arab-Israeli conflict in Palestine. He was part of the UN Special Committee on Palestine and traveled to the Middle East to mediate the discussions. When the chief mediator was assassinated, Bunche replaced him and helped negotiate an armistice, reportedly over playing pool with the Israeli representative. For his service, Bunche was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1950, making him the first African American ever to receive this illustrious award.
Bunche worked actively, as an American citizen and as UN Under-Secretary-General, for race relations, human rights, decolonization, and international peacekeeping. His work contributed to the decolonization of several nations and advanced human rights around the world. Bunche’s influence can still be seen in the UN’s peacekeeping strategies and conflict resolutions today.
Bunche was also an active supporter of the Civil Rights Movement. He wrote articles and delivered speeches in support. He also attended the March on Washington and the Selma march.
Bunche was made Under-Secretary-General of the UN in 1968. However, his health began to decline and he resigned within a few years. Bunche died on December 9, 1971. In addition to his Nobel Peace Prize, Bunche also received the NAACP’s Spingarn Medal and the Boy Scouts’ Silver Buffalo Award. Several buildings, parks, schools, and other locations have been named in his honor.
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