Black History Month: Ralph Bunche

Ralph Johnson Bunche (1903-1971), an African American scholar, educator, Africanist, and diplomat, achieved national and international prominence in 1949 after negotiating armistice agreements between Israel and 4 Arab states, for which he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace. A political scientist, professor and diplomat, Bunche advocated the peaceful resolution of conflict and championed the cause of justice and equality for all people regardless of race or economic status and played a major role in decolonizing much of the colonial world. Bunche was appointed Undersecretary-General for Special Political Affairs at the United Nations, the highest post ever held by an American in the world organization.

Born in modest circumstances and orphaned at an early age, Ralph Bunche grew up under the guidance of his maternal grandmother, Mrs. Lucy Taylor Johnson. Overcoming economic difficulties and racial prejudice to excel in academics, he graduated valedictorian both at high school and at UCLA, winning a scholarship for graduate work at Harvard University. At Harvard he became the first African American to receive a Ph.D in political science in the United States. Extensive field research for a doctoral dissertation on colonialism in Africa and scholarly investigation of international race relations culminated in the classic book A World View of Race (1936). Later, he served as chief researcher and writer for Gunnar Myrdal’s pivotal study of American race relations, An American Dilemma (1944). Source:

Ralph Bunche graduated from the University of California at Los Angeles summa cum laude, with a major in international relations, and earned his doctorate from Harvard University in 1934.  

Beginning in the 1940s, Ralph Bunche embarked on a career that made him one of the most prominent diplomats in U.S. history. He was a leading advocate of granting independence to colonial regimes around the world. In 1944, he joined the Department of State as an advisor on the future of colonial territories. He also advised the U.S. delegation that helped to draft the charter of the United Nations. Bunche joined the United Nations in 1946. He played an important role in the creation and adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. As the U.N.’s chief negotiator, his mediation efforts led to the signing of an armistice between Arabs and Jews in Palestine in 1949. For this accomplishment, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1950. 

In 1956, he supervised the deployment of 6,000 United Nations peacekeeping troops around the Suez Canal to defuse the crisis initiated by the attack of Israel, France, and Britain upon Egypt. In the 1960s, he led U.N. peacekeeping missions in the Congo and Cyprus. He became Under Secretary General of the United Nations in 1968. A lifelong advocate for civil rights, Bunche joined Martin Luther King’s March on Washington in 1963 and civil rights marches in Montgomery and Selma, Alabama. Source: Discover Diplomacy


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