Ralph Bunche Facts: Learn All About The Nobel Peace Prize Winner!

Martha Martins
Nov 02, 2023 By Martha Martins
Originally Published on Dec 29, 2021
Learn interesting Ralph Bunche facts, including those about the Ralph Bunche Library, run by the US State Department.

Ralph Bunche was one of the most distinguished American political scientists who ended up winning the Nobel Prize for peace in 1950.

Ralph Bunche played a very important role in the Arab-Israeli conflict that happened in Palestine and managed to mediate the conflict. His role in the negotiations helped create the new state of Israel in 1948.

Ralph Bunche was an ardent believer in peace. He mentioned in one speech that if someone truly believes in peace, they must be ready to exhaust all recourses needed at that time to save peace.

This is what Bunche did too. Some of his speeches about peace made as a mediator are still spoken about in awe. In fact, the Nobel Peace Committee, in 1950, mentioned that his peace speech was completely against war and for peace, and that is how any mediating speech should be.

After the successful mediation of the Arab-Israeli conflict, Bunche ended up taking up more peace and negotiation tasks and won innumerable accolades during his lifetime.

Ralph Bunche - Life History

Ralph Johnson Bunche was born in 1903 to Fred Bunche and Olive Bunche.

His father was a barber in Detroit, Michigan, and he barely managed to survive the bills. His mother was a struggling musician, and his grandmother, Nana Johnson, lived with the family, helping with the kids.

When he was 10, the family moved to New Mexico, hoping that the dry climate would solve their health issues. But in an unfortunate turn of events, both his parents died two years later.

When Bunche was 14, his grandmother took Bunche and his sisters to Los Angeles, where Ralph Bunche served as a house boy, sold newspapers, and did odd jobs to satisfy the family's needs. Bunche mentioned that it was his grandmother who instilled values like pride and self-belief in him.

On a personal note, Ralph Bunche married one of his students, Ruth Harris, in 1930, while he was teaching at Howard University. He had three children with her-Joan Harris Bunche, Jane Johnson Bunche, and Ralph J. Bunche, Jr. His second daughter, Jane Johnson Bunche Pierce, had an unfortunate death, falling from her apartment roof.

One of his grandchildren, Ralph J. Bunche III, became a famous lawyer and politician and became the General Secretary of an international organization named the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization. For most of his later life, post-1950, he stayed in New York in the house he built using the money he got for winning the Nobel Prize.

On December 9, 1971, Ralph Johnson Bunche died in New York after developing complications in his heart and kidneys. He had resigned from the United Nations before that due to his ill-health. He was buried in Woodlawn Cemetery, one of the largest cemeteries in New York, which is also a national landmark now.

Ralph Bunche - Education

Bunche graduated from Jefferson High School and was the valedictorian there.

Later, he did exceptionally well at the University of California, Los Angeles, and graduated with flying colors. Bunche completed his master's degree in 1928 and later went on to Harvard University with a graduate scholarship and earned a doctorate there in social studies.

During his doctorate at Harvard University, he was already teaching at the Department of Political Science at an institution called Howard University.

Did you know that Ralph Bunche was the first African American of that period to get a doctorate from an American university? His postdoctoral research was in anthropology, and he did it at the London School of Economics, Cape Town University in South Africa, and Northwestern University.

Ralph Bunche had a passion for learning and teaching and held various honorable positions at renowned educational universities throughout his career. He was a trustee of the New Lincoln School and was a co-director of Swarthmore College. He was also one of the members of the board of the New York City Board of Education.

From 1928-1950, he served as a chair in the Political Science Department at Howard University, working extensively on international relations. In fact, he was one of the brains behind the growth of the Howard School of International Relations.

He also served as a board member of Harvard University and the Institute of International Education. He was a trustee of many educational institutions, including Lincoln University and Oberlin College.

Without a lot of money to pay for tuition, Ralph Bunche had always depended on scholarships, side jobs, and help from friends and family to study. He supported himself with a sports scholarship at the University of California and managed to win the Rosenwald Fellowship scholarship to do his research in Africa.

He had done all kinds of jobs, starting from a janitorial role to teaching a house boy to support his education and the family's expenses.

Ralph Bunche - Contribution In Society

Ralph Bunche has played a pretty commendable role in society as a political scientist and an African American, instilling self-pride and confidence in the hearts of other African American people of that time.

His first book, 'World View of Race' was published in 1936; it talked about racial discrimination and how people should treat the idea of race, instead of putting it down. In 1950, he was elected to be a member of the American Philosophical Society.

It is to be noted that he was the first African American to hold membership here.

After World War Two, Ralph Bunche played a pivotal role in drafting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, an international document that the UN uses to talk about freedom and rights for all individuals. Crafting the UDHR is probably one of his most commendable achievements of all time.

In 1947, Bunche began mediating in the Arab-Israeli War, trying to get to a peaceful collaboration between these regions. He served as one of the members of the United Nations Special Committee that worked in Palestine. Later on, he also served as the principal secretary of the Palestine United Nations committee.

Before his involvement with the United Nations, Ralph Bunche played a role in the Civil Rights Movement too. In fact, he was part of the March on Washington, where Martin Luther King Jr. gave his epic speech, 'I have a dream.' He also ended up showing strong support for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

After the First Arab-Israeli War and managing successful negotiations with the Arab states, Bunche started working with the UN very closely, promoting world peace and getting promoted as the Special Political Affairs Under-Secretary-General.

Bunche joined the Office of Strategic Services in 1941. The Office of Strategic Services was the top intelligence agency in the United States during the Second World War. Later on, he became one of the leaders of the Institute of Pacific Relations. He was one of the leaders who acted as a foundation for the United Nations.

Bunche Ralph was also instrumental in ending colonialism and worked with the UN extensively on this front. He did extensive research on colonialism and maintained good relationships with anti-colonial leaders across the world. He was also the head of the Trusteeship Division of the United Nations and developed the chapters in the UN documents about territories.

Ralph Bunche - Awards

Apart from the Nobel Peace Prize that he won in 1950, Bunche Ralph also won several other accolades in his lifetime.

He was awarded the prestigious Silver Buffalo Award by the Boy Scouts of America and the Spingarn Medal by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Ralph Bunche was named on the list of the 100 Greatest African Americans compiled by scholar Molefi Kete Asante.

A scholarship is named after Ralph Bunche at the University of California at Los Angeles and Colby College. There is a building named after him at Colgate University.

There are multiple schools named after him in different parts of the country.

Ralph Bunche Park is named after him in New York City.

Ralph Bunche's childhood home, which he shared with his grandmother, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

A road in Nairobi, Kenya, is named after Bunche.

The Ralph J. Bunche Library was named after him, and this remains the country's oldest federal government library.

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Written by Martha Martins

Bachelor of Arts specializing in Linguistics

Martha Martins picture

Martha MartinsBachelor of Arts specializing in Linguistics

Martha is a full-time creative writer, content strategist, and aspiring screenwriter who communicates complex thoughts and ideas effectively. She has completed her Bachelor's in Linguistics from Nasarawa State University. As an enthusiast of public relations and communication, Martha is well-prepared to substantially impact your organization as your next content writer and strategist. Her dedication to her craft and commitment to delivering high-quality work enables her to create compelling content that resonates with audiences.

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