Ralph Bunche

Ralph Bunche
Ralph Bunche

Ralph Bunche at the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.
Born August 7, 1903(1903-08-07)
Detroit, Michigan
Died December 9, 1971(1971-12-09) (aged 68)
New York City
Occupation Political scientist and diplomat
Known for Mediation in Palestine, Nobel Peace Prize recipient

Ralph Johnson Bunche (August 7, 1903 disputed-1904.[1][2][3][4] – 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.[5] He was involved in the formation and administration of the United Nations and in 1963, received the Medal of Freedom from President John F. Kennedy.


Early life and education

Bunche was born in Detroit, Michigan to an African American family and baptized at the city's Second Baptist Church. His father, Fred, was a barber, while his mother, Olive Agnes (née Johnson), was an amateur musician. His father had ancestors who were freed before the American Revolution. When he was a child, the family moved to Toledo, Ohio then in 1915, Albuquerque, New Mexico in an effort to improve his parents' health. His mother died in 1916, and his father, who had left Albuquerque to look for work before Olive's death, did not return for Ralph or his sister. His father remarried and Ralph never saw him again. Bunche and his sister, Grace, went to live in Los Angeles with their maternal grandmother, Lucy Taylor Johnson, though some sources list her name as Agnes Johnson.[6][7]

Bunche was a brilliant student, a debater, and the valedictorian of his graduating class at Jefferson High School. He attended the University of California, Los Angeles and graduated summa cum laude in 1927, again as the valedictorian of his class. Using the money his community raised for his studies, and a scholarship from the University, he studied at Harvard University. To help with his living expenses while at Harvard, Bunche sought a job at a local bookstore. The myopic owner, who did not realize Bunche was black, offered him a part-time job. Bunche excelled at running the store to his employer's satisfaction until one day the owner called him into the office and said, "Folks tell me you're a Negro. I don't give a damn, but are you?" Bunche asked, "What did you think?" and the owner replied, "I couldn't see you clear enough."[7]

At Harvard, he earned a master's degree in political science in 1928 and a doctorate in 1934, while he was already teaching in Howard University's Department of Political Science. It was typical then for doctoral candidates to start teaching before completion of their dissertations. He was the first black American to gain a PhD in political science from an American university. From 1936 to 1938, Ralph Bunche conducted postdoctoral research in anthropology at London School of Economics (LSE), and later at the University of Cape Town in South Africa.


Bunche chaired the Department of Political Science at Howard University from 1928 until 1950, where he taught generations of students. He lived in the Brookland neighborhood of Washington, D.C., and was a member of the American Federation of Teachers affiliate at Harvard.

"Throughout his career, Bunche has maintained strong ties with education. He chaired the Department of Political Science at Howard University from 1928 until 1950; taught at Harvard University from 1950 to 1952; served as a member of the New York City Board of Education (1958–1964), as a member of the Board of Overseers of Harvard University (1960–1965), as a member of the Board of the Institute of International Education, and as a trustee of Oberlin College, Lincoln University, and New Lincoln School."[2]

Painting by Betsy Graves Reyneau

In 1936, Bunche authored a pamphlet entitled A World View of Race. In it, Bunche wrote: "And so class will some day supplant race in world affairs. Race war will then be merely a side-show to the gigantic class war which will be waged in the big tent we call the world." From 1936 to 1940, Bunche served as contributing editor of the journal Science and Society: A Marxian Quarterly.[8] Beginning in the Fall of 1938, Bunche served as Gunnar Myrdal's main researcher and writer, accompanying Myrdal as he travelled through the south gathering information for his monumental study An American Dilemma.[9]

World War II years

Bunche spent time during World War II in the Office of Strategic Services, the predecessor of the CIA, as senior social analyst on Colonial Affairs before joining the State Department in 1943. At the State Department, 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 Pacific Relations (IPR).

He participated in the preliminary planning for the United Nations at the San Francisco Conference of 1945.

Work with the United Nations

At the close of the Second World War, Bunche was active in preliminary planning for the United Nations at the Dumbarton Oaks Conference, held in Washington D.C. in 1944. He was also an adviser to the U.S. delegation for the "Charter Conference" of the United Nations held in 1945. Additionally, he was closely involved in drafting the United Nations Charter. Ralph Bunche along with Eleanor Roosevelt were considered instrumental in the creation and adoption of the UN Declaration of Human Rights.

According to the United Nations document "Ralph Bunche: Visionary for Peace", during his 25 years of service to the United Nations, he

...championed the principle of equal rights for everyone, regardless of race or creed. He believed in "the essential goodness of all people, and that no problem in human relations is insoluble." Through the UN Trusteeship Council, Bunche readied the international stage for an unprecedented period of transformation, dismantling the old colonial systems in Africa and Asia, and guiding scores of emerging nations through the transition to independence in the post-war era.

Arab-Israeli conflict and Nobel Peace Prize

Beginning in 1947, Bunche was involved with the Arab-Israeli conflict. He served as assistant to the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine, and thereafter as the principal secretary of the UN Palestine Commission. In 1948, he traveled to the Middle East as the chief aide to Sweden's Count Folke Bernadotte, who had been appointed by the UN to mediate the conflict. These men chose the island of Rhodes for their base and working headquarters. In September 1948, Bernadotte was assassinated in Jerusalem by members of the underground Jewish group Lehi.

Following the assassination, Dr. Bunche became the UN's chief mediator and chose to conduct all future negotiations on Rhodes. The representative for Israel was Moshe Dayan who reported in memoirs that much of his delicate negotiation with Ralph Bunche was conducted over a billiard table while the two were shooting pool. Optimistically, Dr. Bunche commissioned a local potter to create unique memorial plates bearing the name of each negotiator. When the agreement was signed, Dr. Bunche awarded these gifts. After unwrapping his, Moshe Dayan asked Ralph Bunche what might have happened if no agreement had been reached. "I'd have broken the plates over your damn heads", Bunche answered. For achieving the 1949 Armistice Agreements, Dr. Bunche received the Peace Prize,[10] in 1950.[11] He continued to work for the United Nations, mediating in other strife-torn regions, including the Congo, Yemen, Kashmir, and Cyprus. He rose to the position of undersecretary-general in 1968.

Prominent African American

The grave of Ralph Bunche

Bunche was an active and vocal supporter of the civil rights movement, and participated in the 1963 March on Washington, where Martin Luther King gave his "I Have a Dream" speech, and also in the famous Selma to Montgomery, Alabama march that led to the passage of the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965.[12]

Bunche was a resident of the Kew Gardens neighborhood of Queens, New York from 1953 until his death.[13]

Despite having won the Nobel Prize, Bunche continued to struggle against racism across the United States and in his own neighborhood. In 1959, he and his son, Ralph, Jr., were denied membership in the West Side Tennis Club in the Forest Hills neighborhood of Queens. After a great deal of publicity, the club offered an apology and invitation of membership and the official who initially rebuffed the Bunches resigned. Bunche refused the offer saying it was not based on racial equality and was only an exception based on his personal prestige.[6]

In June 1970, Bunche's health began to decline and he was hospitalized. He resigned from his position at the UN, but this was not announced because Secretary-General U Thant hoped he would be able to return soon. However, his health did not improve and Bunche died December 10, 1971, at age 68. He is buried in Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx, New York.


A bust of Ralph Bunche, Bunche Hall, UCLA.

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 February 11, 1972, the site of his birth in Detroit was listed as a Michigan Historic Site. Mrs. Bunche was present for the unveiling of a historical marker on April 27, 1972.[7][14]

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.[15] 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."[16]

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 Markham, Illinois; 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 Glasgow, Kentucky, a center to help build community relation and social, economic, and cultural understanding; the center was named the Liberty District- Ralph Bunche Community Center.

In 2002, scholar Molefi Kete Asante included Ralph Bunche on his list of 100 Greatest African Americans.[17]

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


  • "May there be, in our time, at long last, a world at peace in which we, the people, may for once begin to make full use of the great good that is in us."[citation needed]
  • "There are no warlike peoples – just warlike leaders."[18]
  • "I...believe in the essential goodness of my fellow man, which leads me to believe that no problem of human relations is ever insoluble."[11]

Personal life

While teaching at Howard University in 1928, Bunche met Ruth Harris, who was one of his students, and the two were married June 23, 1930. The couple had three children: Joan (b.1931), Jane (b.1933), and Ralph (b.1943). At the time of his death, Bunche was survived by his wife, daughter Joan, son Ralph and three grandchildren.[6] His wife subsequently had three additional grandchildren and a number of great-grandchildren.[1]

On October 9, 1966, Bunche's daughter Jane Pierce fell from the roof of her Bronx apartment building in a presumed suicide.[19]

Selected bibliography by Bunche

  • Bunche, Ralph, A World View of Race. (Bronze Booklet Series. Washington, D.C.: Associates in Negro Folk Education, 1936) [Reprint, Port Washington, NY, Kennikat Press, 1968; excerpt in Ralph Bunche: Selected Speeches and Writings, edited by Charles P. Henry]
  • Bunche, Ralph. The Political Status of the Negro in the Age of FDR, edited with an Introduction by Dewey W. Grantham. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1973) [A version of a Ralph Bunche 1941 research memorandum prepared for the Carnegie-Myrdal Study, "The Negro in America"]
  • Bunche, Ralph. A Brief and Tentative Analysis of Negro Leadership, edited with an Introduction by Jonathan Scott Holloway (NY, New York University Press, 2005) [A version of "The Negro in America"]
  • Edgar, Robert R., ed. An African American in South Africa: The Travel Notes of Ralph J. Bunche, 28 September 1937 – 1 January 1938. (Athens, Ohio University Press, 1992)
  • Henry, Charles P., ed. Ralph J. Bunche: Selected Speeches and Writings. (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1995)

See also


  1. ^ a b Urquhart, Brian (19 October 1998). Ralph Bunche: an American life. W. W. Norton & Company. p. 25. ISBN 978-0-393-31859-3. http://books.google.com/books?id=-lsfETlobAkC&pg=PA25. Retrieved 13 October 2011. 
  2. ^ a b "Nobel Peace Prize 1950– Ralph Bunche". Nobelprize.org. 1950. http://nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/peace/laureates/1950/bunche-bio.html. Retrieved November 30, 2010. 
  3. ^ Bunche Charter School. Greendot.org (1904-08-07). Retrieved on 2011-08-03.
  4. ^ Google Timelines. Google.com. Retrieved on 2011-08-03.
  5. ^ William Greaves, Director (2001). Ralph Bunche: An American Odyssey (Television production). New York City: William Greaves Productions, Inc.. http://www.pbs.org/ralphbunche/. 
  6. ^ a b c Robert D. McFadden (December 10, 1971). "Dr. Bunche of U.N., Nobel winner, Dies". New York Times (nytimes.com). http://www.nytimes.com/learning/general/onthisday/bday/0807.html. Retrieved October 22, 2010. 
  7. ^ a b c Laurie J. Marzejka (August 29, 1997). "Michigan History: Dr. Ralph Bunche—from Detroit to the world stage". The Detroit News (detnews.com). http://apps.detnews.com/apps/history/index.php?id=89. Retrieved October 22, 2010. 
  8. ^ Federal Bureau of Investigation Report: Institute of Pacific Relations, Internal Security – C, November 4, 1944, p. 4, FBI IPR file, Section 1, PDF p. 43
  9. ^ Roberts, Gene and Hank Klibanoff (2006). The Race Beat: The Press, the Civil Rights Struggle, and the Awakening of a Nation. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. ISBN 0679403817. 
  10. ^ Asle Sveen Ralph Bunche: UN Mediator in the Middle East, 1948–1949. Nobelprize.org. 29 December 2006
  11. ^ a b Benjamin Rivlin, "Vita: Ralph Johnson Bunche: Brief life of a champion of human dignity: 1903–1971", Harvard Magazine, Nov. 2003.
  12. ^ Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Dr. Ralph J. Bunche: Nobel Peace Prize Winners Whose Paths Converge. Black-collegian.com. Retrieved on 2011-08-03.
  13. ^ Rimer, Sara. "From Queens Streets, City Hall Seems Very Distant", The New York Times, October 19, 1989. Accessed November 13, 2007.
  14. ^ "Ralph J Bunche Birthplace". Michigan State Housing Development Authority. http://www.mcgi.state.mi.us/hso/sites/15255.htm. Retrieved October 22, 2019. 
  15. ^ Bunche's Tall Tales. UCLA Magazine. April 1, 2006. http://www.magazine.ucla.edu/depts/hailhills/bunche_kareem/index1.html. 
  16. ^ "About the Ralph J. Bunche International Affairs Center". Howard University. 2001. http://www.howard.edu/rjb/ABOUT.HTM. Retrieved November 30, 2010. 
  17. ^ Asante, Molefi Kete (2002). 100 Greatest African Americans: A Biographical Encyclopedia. Amherst, New York: Prometheus Books. p. 345. ISBN 1-57392-963-8. 
  18. ^ Forbes, Dec. 7, 2007[dead link]
  19. ^ "Ralph Bunche's Daughter Falls to Death". The Park City Daily News, Bowling Green, Kentucky (Google Newspapers): p. 3. March 10, 1966. http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1697&dat=19661010&id=CCoeAAAAIBAJ&sjid=C5cEAAAAIBAJ&pg=5155,3683304. Retrieved November 30, 2010. 

Further reading

  • Henry, Charles P. Ralph Bunche: Model Negro or American Other? (NY, New York University Press, 1999)
  • Meyer, Edith Patterson In Search of Peace: The Winners of the Nobel Peace Prize, 1901–1975 (Nashville, Abdington, 1978)
  • Rivlin, Benjamin, editor. Ralph Bunche: The Man and His Times (New York: Holmes & Meyer, 1990)
  • Urquhart, Brian Ralph Bunche: An American Life (New York: W.W. Norton, 1993) 496 p. [Paperback edition titled Ralph Bunche: An American Odyssey, 1998]

External links

Preceded by
Position Created
Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations
for Special Political Affairs

Succeeded by
Brian Urquhart

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Ralph Bunche — Ralph J. Bunche Ralph Johnson Bunche (* 7. August 1904 in Detroit, Michigan, USA; † 9. Dezember 1971 in New York, N.Y.) war ein US amerikanischer Diplomat und Bürgerrechtler. Er erhielt den Spingarn Prize durch den National Association for the… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Ralph Bunche — Saltar a navegación, búsqueda Ralph Bunche, fotografía de Carl Van Vechten, 1951 Ralph Johnson Bunche (7 de agosto de 1904 – 9 de diciembre de 1971) fue un politólogo y diplomático estadounidense galardonado con el Premio Nobel de la Paz en 1950 …   Wikipedia Español

  • Ralph Bunche — Dr. Ralph Bunche, photographie de Carl Van Vechten, 1951 Ralph Johnson Bunche (7 août 1904 9 décembre 1971) est un politologue et un diplomate américain qui reçut en 1950 le Prix Nobel de la paix pour sa médiation en Palestine. Il devient ainsi… …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Ralph Bunche — noun United States diplomat and United Nations official (1904 1971) • Syn: ↑Bunche, ↑Ralph Johnson Bunche • Instance Hypernyms: ↑diplomat, ↑diplomatist …   Useful english dictionary

  • Ralph Bunche — Vida La influencia que la vida de una persona ejerce sobre la de otra es incalculable …   Diccionario de citas

  • Ralph Bunche High School — was a school constructed in 1949 as a result of Civil Action 631 to provide separate but equal education for African American students in King George County, Virginia. The school operated until 1968 when King George High School was completed and… …   Wikipedia

  • Ralph Bunche Park — is a small municipal public park in the Turtle Bay neighborhood of New York City, at the northwest corner of First Avenue and 42nd Street. It was named in 1979 for the late Ralph Bunche.The park is across First Avenue from the United Nations… …   Wikipedia

  • Bunche — Ralph J. Bunche Ralph Johnson Bunche (* 7. August 1904 in Detroit, Michigan, USA; † 9. Dezember 1971 in New York, N.Y.) war ein US amerikanischer Diplomat und Bürgerrechtler. Er erhielt den Spingarn Prize durch den …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Ralph J. Bunche — Ralph Johnson Bunche (* 7. August 1904 in Detroit, Michigan, USA; † 9. Dezember 1971 in New York, N.Y.) war ein US amerikanischer Diplomat und Bürgerrechtler. Er erhielt den Spingarn Prize durch den …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Ralph Johnson Bunche — Ralph J. Bunche Ralph Johnson Bunche (* 7. August 1904 in Detroit, Michigan, USA; † 9. Dezember 1971 in New York, N.Y.) war ein US amerikanischer Diplomat und Bürgerrechtler. Er erhielt den Spingarn Prize durch den …   Deutsch Wikipedia

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