Ralph Johnson Bunche (August 8, 1903 disputed-1904. – 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. 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.
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.
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.
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.
Prominent African American
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.
Bunche was a resident of the Kew Gardens neighborhood of Queens, New York from 1953 until his death.
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.
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.
"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.
"There are no warlike peoples - just warlike leaders.
"I...believe in the essential goodness of my fellow man, which leads me to believe that no problem of human relations is ever insoluble.
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. His wife subsequently had three additional grandchildren and a number of great-grandchildren.
On October 9, 1966 Bunche's daughter Jane Pierce fell from the roof of her Bronx apartment building in a presumed suicide.
He's also famous for possessing (if only briefly) the only street cleared of snow in the Borough of Queens, as a result of an indignant telephone call from his wife to some Mayoral aide.
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.
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. 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.
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 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 2002, scholar Molefi Kete Asante listed Ralph Bunche on his list of 100 Greatest African Americans.
In 2004, Ralph Bunche was posthumously honored with the William J. Donovan Award from The OSS Society.