Dr. Ralph J. Bunche Biography

Biography of Ralph J. Bunch, first African American to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, Undersecretary of the United Nations, and peace negotiator for world crises in Africa, Asia and the Middle East.

Ralph Johnson Bunche was born on August 7, 1904 in Detroit, Michigan. Bunche's family was poor and his father moved from city to city looking for work. Ralph attended Barstow School in Toledo, Ohio and sold newspapers to add to the family income. Bunche would later recall that, "My childhood days were poor days, but happy ones and filled with music." Ralph's mother died when he was thirteen years old, after which his maternal grandmother reared him.

Ralph attended Jefferson High School in Los Angeles. He experienced racial prejudice when he was not allowed admittance to the Ephebain Socity, the citywide honor society. He was so upset that he wanted to quit school. He did not quit and graduated from high school in 1922 with academic honors. Ralph's grandmother encouraged him to continue his education. After graduation, he entered the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA). At college Ralph participated in athletic and social activities. He was on the staff of the college newspaper, the "Daily Bruin," and sports editor of the college yearbook.

Although he worked part-time jobs to help pay for his college expenses, he excelled in his subjects. He majored in political science and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa, the most prestigious honor society in the U.S. In 1927, Bunche graduated from UCLA with the highest honors.

Bunche was offered a fellowship from Harvard University. He received a master of arts degree from Harvard in 1928 and took a position at Howard University, the prestigious African American college in Washington, D.C. He served as a political science professor and helped organize the political science department. While at Howard he met Ruth Harris, whom he married in 1930. They had three children, Joan, Jane and Ralph, Jr.

Bunche received a Ph.D. from Harvard University in 1934, becoming the first African-American to receive a doctorate in political science. Bunche traveled to many African countries while studying for his Ph.D. and had an opportunity to meet with many African leaders. In 1936, Bunche published his first book, "A World View of Race," which was a study of race relations in the U.S. After the publication of his book, Bunche traveled to South Africa to study race relations there.

In 1939, Bunche began working with Gunnar Myrdal, a Swedish sociologist and economist, who was conducting a large scale study on black-white relations in the U.S. In 1944, the results of the research were published in the renowned book, "The American Dilemma: The Negro Problem and Modern Democracy."

During World War II, Bunche served as senior analyst for the National Defense Program Office of Information. He was later promoted to chief of the African section. He also worked at the U.S. State Department and participated in conferences that led to the formation of the United Nations. He was the first African American to serve on the U.S. delegation to the first General Assembly of the united Nations. In 1947, he was appointed director of the Trusteeship Department, then he became Undersecretary General of the United Nations, becoming the highest U.S. official in the United Nations.

In 1949, Bunche successfully negotiated a truce to the Arab-Israeli conflict. For his work as a mediator for a peaceful resolution, Bunche was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. In 1950, he became the first African American to receive the Nobel Prize. Bunche gave the Nobel lecture in Oslo, Norway, in which he said, "If today we speak of peace, we also speak of the united Nations, for in this year, peace and the United Nations have become inseparable"¦who could be so unseeing as not to realize that in modern war, victory is illusory; that the harvest of war can be only misery, destruction, and degradation?"

After receiving the Nobel Prize, Bunche continued to work to improve international relations and negotiate for peaceful resolutions throughout the world. In addition to his continued work in the Middle East, he organized and directed United Nations peacekeeping during the Suez and Congo crises. He received over 40 honorary degrees, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Spingarn Medal, the Theodore Roosevelt Association Medal of Honor, The Presidential Medal of Honor, and the U.S. Medal of Freedom.

Ralph Bunche died on December 9, 1971. As a tribute, the United Nations General Assembly stood for a moment of silence. In 1980, a steel monolith, entitled "Peace Form On," was erected in a park facing the United Nations. The park is named The Ralph Bunch Park and is dedicated to peace.

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