Ralph Bunche (1903-1971) was a diplomat, peace negotiator, advisor to presidents and the first African American to win the Nobel Peace Prize.
Bunche was raised by his maternal grandmother, a strong women who was proud of her race and heritage. She raised him to be strong as well and to also be proud of his race. Education was very important to her and she insisted that he continue his education after high school.
Bunche attended the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) and graduated summa cum laude in 1927. After graduating from UCLA he headed to Cambridge, Massachusetts with a scholarship from Harvard University and one thousand dollars that the black community in Los Angeles raised for him. He graduated from Harvard in 1928 with a master’s degree in political science.
Over the next few years he taught at historically black Howard University and alternated between teaching at Howard and working on a doctorate degree at Harvard which he received in 1934.
Bunche was an advisor to presidents and was offered the position of Assistant Secretary of State under President Harry S. Truman. He refused the position because it required that he live in Washington, DC which had segregated housing. He did however work as an advisor to the Department of State and the military.
In 1945 when representatives from 50 countries met in San Francisco to officially form the United Nations and draft the UN charter, Bunche was there representing the United States. In 1946 he was put in charge of the UN’s Trusteeship Department which led efforts to ensure that territories taken during World War II were governed peacefully and in the best interest of its people until it gained independence.
From 1947 to 1949 he was involved in the conflict between Arabs and Jews in Palestine. In 1948 the United Nations appointed Count Folke Bernadotte, a Swedish diplomat, to be mediator of the conflict and appointed Bunche as his chief aide.
When Count Bernadotte was assassinated, Bunche was named acting United Nations mediator on Palestine. In 1949, and after eleven months of negotiating, he was able to get Israel and Arab states to sign an armistice agreement.
Ralph Bunche was applauded and hailed a hero for his work. His efforts were recognized by the Nobel committee and in 1950 he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Get Activity for Grades 4-8: Ralph Bunche Word Scramble
More about the man Ralph Bunche
- Civil Rights Activist
- Marched with Dr. King
- Worked with A. Phillip Randolph to establish the National Negro Congress
- Protested the production of the play Porgy and Bess at a segregated theater in Washington, DC
- Studied Swahili in London with Jomo Kenyatta, who would later become president of Kenya
- Professor at Harvard University (1950-1952)