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Ralph Bunche - Speaks at UCLA 04/21/1965

​Who was Ralph Bunche?

Ralph Bunche speaks at UCLA 02/26/1969 

1st Black Nobel Peace Prize Winner Dr.  Ralph J. Bunche

Dr.  Ralph J. Bunche   1904 - 1971










In 1950, Dr.  Ralph Johnson Bunche achieved what no other diplomat had been able to accomplish; successfully end the first Arab-Israeli War.  For this, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, thus becoming the first Black to receive this prestigious honor.  While Ralph came from humble roots, he rose to become a political scientist, an educator, a government official, and a great statesman.

Ralph Bunche was born in Detroit, Michigan, on August 7, 1904, the grandson of a slave.  His father was a barber and his mother was an amateur musician.  Ralph and his sister were raised by their maternal grandmother, Lucy Johnson, in Los Angeles.  Money was very scarce during Ralph Bunche's early schooling, so he had to work his way through Jefferson High School, and he graduated with top honors.

While attending the University of California at Los Angeles, Bunche distinguished himself in football, baseball, and basketball, and as a scholar who graduated, sum ma cum laude, in 1927.  To supplement his athletic scholarship he worked as a campus janitor.  From UCLA, he entered Harvard University, with the help of friends and relatives, and earned his master's degree, in 1928, in government.

Also, in 1928, Bunche was appointed a professor of political science at Howard University.  In 1930, at age of 26, he married Ruth Harris, and they eventually had three children.  In 1934, his educational quest returned him to Harvard, where he earned his doctorate.

In 1936, Bunche published a treatise, A World View of Race, which was so impressive that Gunnar Myrdal, the world renowned sociologist from Sweden, who had specialized in the area of race relations, hired Bunche as his chief research assistant.  The combination of these two great minds produced the book, An American Dilemma, which is known as a classic study of the American Black.  During World War II, Bunche was called upon to serve in very sensitive governmental positions.

As an expert on Africa, he helped to make the Allied invasion of North Africa a success.  He became the first Black to hold a desk job at the U.S. State Department.  And, he also helped lay the groundwork for the United Nations.

Ralph Bunche's diplomatic skill came to the attention of world leaders and, in 1946, UN Secretary General Trygve Lie appointed him to the trusteeship division of the United Nations, where he became intensely familiar with the dynamics of the explosive Arab-Israeli crisis.  In 1947, he became a member of the UN Special Committee on Palestine, which advised partition of the country into Jewish and Arab states.

Tension between the two countries ignited the first Arab-Israeli War and touched off a series of events that led to the UN mediator being assassinated.  Bunche was elevated to the position of chief mediator in 1946.  After six months of intense negotiating, Bunche achieved an armistice.  In 1950, he was rewarded the ultimate recognition for his skill; the Nobel Peace Prize, the first of his race to be so honored.  His efforts also earned him awards from a host of organizations, including the NAACP Spingarn award, and the Medal of Freedom from President John F. Kennedy in 1963.

Bunche next negotiated peace-keeping initiatives in the Suez, the Congo and in Cyprus.  In the Congo, he worked 19 hours a day, for weeks, as the head of a 20,000-man UN peace-keeping force. In 1962, at the age of 58, exhaustion from overwork made him consider retirement, but he stayed on at the urging of many people, including President Lyndon Johnson.  And, he later became involved in the UN efforts to deploy nuclear energy for peaceful means.

In October of 1971, ill health finally forced Dr. Ralph Bunche to resign his post as Secretary General for Special Political Affairs, and he died in New York City, on December 9th.  He was eulogized by UN Secretary-General U Thant as "the most effective and best-known international civil servant."


Excerpt from A Salute to Historic Black Firsts.


​This is only a summary of the life of Dr. Ralph J. Bunche.