Black History Month 2012: Ralph Bunche

17 Feb

Today we honor a celebrated diplomat and political scientist, Nobel Laureate Ralph Bunche. In 1950, Bunche was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his work in Palestine, the first person of color to be awarded this honor.

Ralph Bunche was born in Detroit, MI at the turn of the 20th Century. He was a brilliant student, emerging top of his class in high school and at UCLA. He earned his Master’s and PhD in Political Science from Harvard while teaching at Howard University. He chaired the Howard PoliSci department from 1928 to 1950.

During World War II, Bunche served with the OSS and parlayed that experience into a post with the State Department after the war. He was closely involved in creating the charter for the nascent United Nations and worked closely with Eleanor Roosevelt on the UN Declaration of Human Rights. Starting in 1947, he began working on the Arab-Israeli conflict and was the UN’s primary negotiator. Firm but fair, he was respected by all parties and helped craft the first major Middle-East armistice. He went on to help mediate in numerous other strife-torn regions and was eventually made UN Undersecretary-General.

Bunche was also involved in US politics, especially the civil rights movement. He helped support the 1963 March on Washington and was an outspoken advocate for racial equality. Despite his prominence, he suffered direct racism in his neighborhood, being denied membership in a local tennis club in 1959. Ralph Bunche was an amazing force for good in the world. Let us try to live up to his vision:

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.

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