Ralph Bunche was a scholar, humanitarian, civil rights activist and recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize and former president of APSA.
Born in 1904 in Detroit, Michigan, Bunche moved to Los Angeles after the death of his parent at the age of 13.
Bunche was an exemplarily student, graduating valedictorian of his class at Jefferson High School where he also competed in basketball, football, baseball, and track and had been a debater. He went on to attend UCLA where he received an athletic scholarship and participated in debate and journalism. Bunche graduated summa cum laude, valedictorian of his class in 1927, with a major in international relations. By 1928 Bunche had earned his master’s degree in political science from Harvard University and began his graduate studies while teaching at Howard University. In 1934, Ralph Bunche completed his studies, becoming the first African American to gain a PhD in political science from an American University.
Bunches’ most notable role is that of acting chief of the Division of Dependent Area Affairs in the State Department. Bunche was assigned the task of defusing the confrontation between the Jews and Arabs in Palestine as assistant to the UN Special Committee on Palestine. He was then promoted to principal secretary of the UN Palestine Commission. In 1948, as fighting between the Arabs and Israelis became dire, the UN appointed Count Folke Bernadotte as mediator and Bunche as his chief aide. Count Bernadotte was assassinated four months later and Bunche was named acting UN mediator on Palestine. Bunche was able to negotiate agreements between the Arab and Israel state after 11 months, winning him the Nobel Peace Prize for 1950 along with thirty honorary degrees.
Bunche went on to be an active supporter of the civil rights movement, participating in the 1963 March on Washington where Martin Luther King gave his “I Have a Dream” speech.
Bunche resigned from the UN due to his declining health and passed away on December 9, 1971 at the age of 68.