The Ralph J. Bunche International Affairs Center (RBC) is named after world-renowned American diplomat and founding member of the United Nations, Dr. Ralph J. Bunche. Known for his peacekeeping efforts in the Middle East and Africa, Bunche became the first African American to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1950.
Early Life & Education
Born August 7, 1904, in Detroit, MI, Bunche was raised by his maternal grandmother in Los Angeles, CA. After the death of his parents, education became the focal point for Bunche and his younger sister. In his high school years, Bunche excelled in both academics and athletics. He graduated as valedictorian from Jefferson High School and enrolled at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) where he also excelled, graduating first in class in 1927, with a degree in international relations. He went on to earn his master’s in political science and Ph.D. in government and international relations in 1928 and 1934, at Harvard University. Bunche was the first African American to earn a doctoral degree in Political Science. Bunche was awarded the Toppan Prize for his research in Togoland and Dahomey and he completed postdoctoral research at Northwestern University, the London School of Economics, and University of Cape Town in South Africa.
As a graduate student, Bunche began his long and impactful career here at Howard University, where he established the political science department and served as a professor from 1928 to 1941. Later, he became a government analyst with the Office of Strategic Services. In 1944, he became an advisor for the State Department and the US Delegation to the 1945 San Francisco Conference, which established the charter for the United Nations.
On the international stage, he began as the director of the Trusteeship Department of the UN Secretariat in New York City in 1947- a post he was appointed to by UN Secretary-General Trygve Lie. Bunche garnered further esteem through his UN mediator role during a troublesome conflict between Palestine and Israel, an opportunity which fell upon his shoulders after the original mediator was assassinated in 1948. Although through happenstance, Bunche was immensely successful in this role, negotiating between Israel and the Arab States for eleven months. Ultimately, his efforts would lead to obtaining signatures on Armistice Agreements in 1949. This achievement earned him the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1950, making history again as the first African American and person of color to receive the prestigious award.
Bunche also received the Spingarn Prize from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1949, and over three dozen honorary degrees from 1949 to 1961. Continuing his efforts with the United Nations, Ralph J. Bunche was appointed to the undersecretary position for special political affairs, under Secretary General Dag Hammarskjöld in 1955. In this post he played the lead role for many international conflict resolutions facilitated by the UN.
In the late 1940s and early 1960s, Bunche was offered top US Secretary of State roles by President Harry Truman and President John F. Kennedy. He refused the position to protect his family from the segregation that was still enforced in Washington, DC. Besides his role in global affairs, Bunche was also involved in the Civil Rights movement within the United States in the 1950s and 1960s. Bunche marched with Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma and Montgomery, Alabama and was a member of the NAACP board for 22 years. Bunche used his research, experience and expertise to write A World View of Race in 1936, and largely contributed to Gunnar Myrdal’s An American Dilemma in 1944.
"I have a deep-seated bias against hate and intolerance. I have a bias against racial and religious bigotry. I have a bias that leads me to believe in the essential goodness of my fellow man, which leads me to believe that no problem of human relations is ever insoluble."
Bunche married Ruth Ethel Harris in 1930 and raised three children: Joan Harris Bunche, Jane Johnson Bunche Pierce and Ralph Johnson Bunche Jr. Bunche passed away in 1971 and is buried in Woodlawn Cemetery in The Bronx, NY. Some of the tributes in his name around the country include, but are not limited to:
- A bust at the entrance of UCLA’s Bunche Hall, which overlooks the Sculpture Garden
- The Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies (University of California, Los Angeles)
- Ralph Bunche Park in New York City, which faces the United Nations headquarters
- His Northeast Washington, DC home, which was named a DC Historic Site in 1975 and a National Historic Place in 1993
- Ralph Bunche Institute for International Studies at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York
- Howard University’s Ralph J. Bunche International Affairs Center