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Black News and News Makers in History: Ralph Bunche

Ralph Johnson Bunche was born August 7, 1904 in Detroit Michigan. His father, a barber and mother, an amateur musician moved to Albuquerque New Mexico when he was ten years old with his grandmother (who was born into slavery). At age 12, his parent died of natural causes. His grandmother moved him and his two sisters to Los Angeles.

To help support the household, he served as house boy for a movie actor, helped lay carpet, sold newspapers, and did odd jobs while he attended school He was valedictorian of his graduating class at Jefferson High School in Los Angeles, where he had been a debater and all-around athlete who competed in football, basketball, baseball, and track. At the University of California at Los Angeles he supported himself with an athletic scholarship along with a janitorial job. He played varsity basketball on championship teams, was active in debate and campus journalism, and was graduated in 1927, summa cum laude, valedictorian of his class, with a major in international relations.

With a Harvard University scholarship and a fund of $1,000 raised by the black community of Los Angeles, Bunche began his graduate studies in political science. He completed his master's degree in 1928 and for the next six years alternated between teaching at Howard University and working toward the doctorate at Harvard.

The Rosenwald Fellowship, which he held in 1932-1933, enabled him to conduct research in Africa for a dissertation comparing French rule in Togoland and Dahomey. He completed his dissertation in 1934 with such distinction that he was awarded the Toppan Prize for outstanding research in social studies. From 1936 to 1938, on a Social Science Research Council fellowship, he did postdoctoral research in anthropology at Northwestern University, the London School of Economics, and Capetown University in South Africa.

His career included chairing the Department of Political Science at Howard University from 1928 until 1950; teaching at Harvard University from 1950 to 1952; serving 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.

Always active in the civil rights movement, at Howard University he was considered by some to be a young radical intellectual who criticized both America's social system and the established Negro organizations, but generally he is thought of as a moderate. He was co-director of the Institute of Race Relations at Swarthmore College in 1936, participated in the Carnegie Corporation's well-known survey of the Negro in America, and was a member of the Black Cabinet consulting on minority problems for President Roosevelt's administration. He declined President Truman's offer of the position of assistant secretary of state because of the segregated housing conditions in Washington, D. C.  He helped to lead the civil rights march organized by Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1965 and he supported the action programs of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and of the Urban League.

Through all of his civil rights activities, he chose to exerted his influence personally in speeches and publications, especially during the twenty-year period from 1945 to 1965, rather than lead or build organizations. His message has been clear: Racial prejudice is an unreasoned phenomenon without scientific basis in biology or anthropology; segregation and democracy are incompatible; blacks should maintain the struggle for equal rights while accepting the responsibilities that come with freedom; whites must demonstrate that democracy is color-blind.

His fame arises from his service to the U. S. government and to the United Nations. An adviser to the Department of State and to the military on Africa and colonial areas of strategic military importance during World War II, he moved from his first position as an analyst in the Office of Strategic Services to the desk of acting chief of the Division of Dependent Area Affairs in the State Department. He also discharged various responsibilities in connection with international conferences of the Institute of Pacific Relations, the UN, the International Labor Organization, and the Anglo-American Caribbean Commission.

In 1946, UN Secretary-General Trygve Lie borrowed Bunche from the State Department and placed him in charge of the Department of Trusteeship of the UN to handle problems of the world's peoples who had not yet attained self-government. He has been associated with the UN ever since.

From June of 1947 to August of 1949, Bunche worked on the most important assignment of his career - the confrontation between Arabs and Jews in Palestine. He was first appointed as assistant to the UN Special Committee on Palestine, then as principal secretary of the UN Palestine Commission, which was charged with carrying out the partition approved by the UN General Assembly. In early 1948 when this plan was dropped and fighting between Arabs and Israelis became especially severe, the UN appointed Count Folke Bernadotte as mediator and Ralph Bunche as his chief aide. Four months later, on September 17, 1948, Count Bernadotte was assassinated, and Bunche was named acting UN mediator on Palestine. After eleven months of virtually ceaseless negotiating, Bunche obtained signatures on armistice agreements between Israel and the Arab States.

African American news from Pasadena - Black News and News Makers in History recognizes Ralph Johnson BuncheBunche returned home to a hero's welcome. New York gave him a ticker tape parade up Broadway; Los Angeles declared a "Ralph Bunche Day". He was highly sought after as a lecturer, was awarded the Spingarn Prize by the NAACP in 1949, was given over thirty honorary degrees in the next three years, and the Nobel Peace Prize for 1950.

On August 19, 1954, Ralph J. Bunche, diplomat & first African American winner of Nobel Peace Prize, was named Undersecretary of United Nations.

From 1955 to 1967, he continued to work for the United Nations, placing him on numerous special, highly volatile assignments around the world. In an interview, he remarked that the "United Nations has had the courage that the League of Nations lacked - to step in and tackle the buzz saw." It can be agreed that Ralph Bunche supplied a part of that courage. On October 1, 1971, suffering from heart disease and diabetes, he retired as UN undersecretary-general on October 1, 1971. He died on December 9, 1971.

On May 11,1976 his Queens, New York home, was designated a National Historic Landmark by the Department of Interior. Diplomat and scholar who served as Under Secretary of the United Nations. He received the Noble Peace Prize for his contributions to peace in the Middle East.

Excerpts from nobelprize.org and http://www.blackfacts.com/search.aspx.

 

 
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