Ralph Johnson Bunche

Ralph Johnson Bunche

Detroit, Michigan, USA
Death 9 Dec 1971 (aged 67)
New York, New York, USA
Burial Bronx, Bronx County, New York, USA
Plot Section 83, Myosotis Plot
Memorial ID 149 · View Source
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US Diplomat, Social Reformer. Highly respected African-American scholar, educator, civil rights advocate, United Nations diplomat and world statesman who achieved national and international prominence in 1949 after negotiating armistice agreements between Israel and 4 Arab states, for which he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace. A political scientist, he advocated the peaceful resolution of conflict and championed the cause of justice and equality for all people regardless of race or economic status and played a major role in decolonizing much of the colonial world. Born in Detroit, Michigan under modest circumstances, the family later moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico, in the hope that the poor health of his parents would improve in the dry climate. However, both died, leaving him orphaned at age 13. His maternal grandmother took Ralph Bunche and his young sister to live in Los Angeles, California. While going to school he helped support the family's hard pressed finances by working as a newsboy for the Los Angeles “Times”, serving as house boy for a movie actor, working for a carpet-laying firm, and doing what odd jobs he could find. His grandmother's indomitable will and her wisdom had a lasting influence on him. In 1922, he graduated as valedictorian from Jefferson High School. The same year he entered the southern branch of the University of California (later to become UCLA) on an academic scholarship. At college, in addition to being an outstanding student in philosophy and political science, he was president of the debating society and a student council leader, and he excelled in football, basketball and baseball and was active in campus journalism. In 1927, after graduating summa cum laude and serving as class valedictorian, he entered Harvard University which awarded him a tuition scholarship to study political science. After completing his M. A. in 1928, Bunche joined the faculty of Howard University in Washington, D.C., spending the next six years alternating between teaching there and working toward his doctorate at Harvard in Government and International Relations, which he received in 1934. At Howard University, Bunche established and chaired the Political Science Department, and served for a time as an assistant to President Mordecai Johnson. During the 1930s he was very active in the struggle for civil rights and racial equality, emerging as a true model of a scholar-activist. His enduring fame arises from his service to the United States government and to the United Nations. He served in the Office of Strategic Services from 1941 to 1944, during World War II, and joined the United States Department of State in 1944 beginning his diplomatic career. In 1945 he became the first black to head a departmental division in federal government, the Division of Department Area Affairs. An expert on trusteeship matters, he participated in the writing of the United Nations Charter and in 1946, he became director of the trusteeship division of the United Nations. Beginning in 1947, as a senior member of the staff of the UN commission on Palestine, he participated in the mediation efforts that resulted in recognition of the state of Israel. Throughout his career, Bunche 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 to 1964), as a member of the Board of Overseers of Harvard University (1960 to 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. From June of 1947 to August of 1949, he worked on the most important assignment of his career - the confrontation between Arabs and Jews in Palestine. He later won international recognition for his skill as a mediator after negotiating the four armistice agreements that halted the 1948-1949 Arab-Israeli War. He returned home to a hero's welcome. New York gave him a ticker tape parade up Broadway, he was besieged with request to lecture, awarded the Spingarn Medal by the NAACP in 1949, was given over thirty honorary degrees in the next three years, and the first African-American awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for 1950. Ralph Bunche continued working for the UN from 1955 to 1967, serving as undersecretary, a title that was changed to undersecretary general of the UN in 1969. Until his retirement from the UN in June 1971 he directed peacekeeping operations for the UN and was responsible for the UN program on peaceful uses of atomic energy. Throughout his life, he worked to improve race relations and further the cause of civil rights. For 22 years, he served on the board of the NAACP. He also participated in several civil rights demonstrations, including the 1963 March on Washington and marches in Selma and Montgomery, Alabama, led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. That same year, President John F. Kennedy awarded him with the Medal of Freedom. He died in New York City in 1971 and as a tribute, the UN General Assembly stood for a moment of silence. In 1980, a steel monolith, entitled "Peace Form On," was erected in a park facing the UN in New York. The park was later named The Ralph Bunche Park and is dedicated to peace.

Bio by: Curtis Jackson

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  • Maintained by: Find a Grave
  • Added: 31 Dec 2000
  • Find a Grave Memorial 149
  • Find a Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com : accessed ), memorial page for Ralph Johnson Bunche (7 Aug 1904–9 Dec 1971), Find a Grave Memorial no. 149, citing Woodlawn Cemetery, Bronx, Bronx County, New York, USA ; Maintained by Find A Grave .