Life

Ralph Bunche Biography

Ralph Bunche is regarded as one of the nation's most influential African Americans.

Ralph Bunche is regarded as one of the nation’s most influential African Americans. His legacy is one littered with professional and personal accomplishments. Throughout his adult life, many of his efforts were focused on unification and peace throughout the country and the world. His most notable accomplishments are the role he played in developing the United Nations and implementing policies that benefit the marginalized individuals in the United States and worldwide. 

Bunche was born in Detroit Michigan in 1903, though his early years were spent moving around several times. His birthplace has been listed as a Michigan Historic Site. As a student, Bunch found success in academia, specifically debate. He was the valedictorian of his class in Clawson Jefferson High School and went on to continue his studies at the University of California in Los Angeles. His efforts at UCLA paved the way for him to attend Harvard University. Once at Harvard, Bunche received his doctorate in political science. This milestone earned him the title of the first African American to earn a doctorate degree in the Nation. 

After receiving his doctorate, Ralph Bunche wrote his first book in 1936 titled, World View on Race. The theme of his book was a reflection of his early career which focused heavily on racism and how it impacted the nation as well as the world as a whole. 

Ralph Bunche Helps Shape the United Nations

One of his main accomplishments throughout his adult life what’s his role in helping form the United Nations. Bunch played a pivotal role in the preliminary planning for the UN in the United Nations Conference on International Organization that took place in San Francisco. Along with Elinore Roosevelt, Bunche was instrumental in helping draft the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Bunche paved the way for African American participation in leadership roles and urged the African American community to take part in making their community a better place. He did this through his consistent call for action for African Americans to strive for jobs that they might otherwise have ignored. 

His efforts and influence in his contributions to the UN translated over to his efforts of decolonization as promoting decolonization became the cornerstone of his academics and career. 

It did not take long for Bunche’s philosophies on peace, decolonization, and equality for all to trickle into the conversation surrounding the conflict in the Middle East. Bunche soon served as the assistant to the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine, and then later the Principal Secretary of the United Nation Palestine Commission. In this capacity, Bunche played a role in sifting through the tumultuous Arab-Israeli conflict that still plagues the two societies to this day. His efforts in this field led him to acquire a Nobel Peace Prize in 1950, making him the first African American to receive this distinguished honor. In 1968, his work in the UN led to his appointment of the Under-Secretary General of the United Nations

Influence Over Civil Rights Movement 

In America, Bunche’s dedication to equality unfolded in his participation in the Civil Rights Movement. Along with attending the 1963 March on Washington rally, Bunche joined Dr. Martin Luther King in the Selma to Montgomery March in 1965. Ralph Bunche was an advocate of the advancement of African Americans and played an influential role in propelling the civil rights movement forward. 

Bunche’s personal life was as fulfilling as his professional life. On June 23, 1930, Bunche married his former student Ruth Harris. One year later, they welcomed their first child, Joan Harris Bunche. The couple later welcomed two more children, Jane Johnson Nunche and Ralph J. Buche, Jr. 

Due to growing health concerns, Bunche stepped down from his duties at the U.N. and began focusing on his family. Not long after he stepped down, Bunche passed away on December 9, 1971, following growing health issues including heart disease, diabetes, and kidney disease. 

A Lasting Legacy 

Along with being awarded a Nobel Peace Prize in 1950, Bunche was also awarded the NAACP’s Spingarn Medal in 1949. Bunche also received countless distinctions as one of the nation’s most influential African Americans. The Boy Scouts awarded Bunche the Silver Buffalo Award in 1951 for the positive impact he had on the world. And in 2002, Bunche was listed on Molefi Kete Asante’s list of the nation’s 100 Greatest African Americans. 

Several buildings also bear Ralph Bunche’s name in honor of his achievements and influence. The oldest federal government library founded by Thomas Jefferson in 1789 was renamed The Ralph J. Bunche Library in 1997. UCLA has also honored the influential alumni by erecting a bust of Dr. Bunch at the entrance of the Bunche Hall. Howard University, the nation’s most recognized historically black college, also named the Ralph J. Bunche International Affairs Center after Bunche. There are also over a dozen elementary schools and one high school that are named after the late Ralph Bunche. 

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