Ralph Johnson Bunche (August 7, 1904 – December 9, 1971), American scholar and diplomat, known for his work in the United Nations (UN), and the first black to win a Nobel Peace Prize. He was born in Detroit, Michigan. He graduated from the University of California at Los Angeles in 1927 and earned a doctorate in government and international relations from Harvard University in 1934.
He taught political science at Howard University in Washington, D.C., while completing his doctorate work at Harvard. From 1938 until 1940 he worked with the Swedish sociologist Gunnar Myrdal on a classical study of African-Americans that resulted in Myrdal’s book An American Dilemma: The Negro Problem and American Democracy (1944).
Bunche 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; in 1945 he became the first black to head a departmental division in federal government, the Division of Dependent Area Affairs. An expert on trusteeship matters, Bunche participated in the writing of the UN Charter, and in 1946 he became director of the trusteeship division of the UN.
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. Bunche won international recognition for his skill as a mediator, and he was became the first black man to win the Nobel Peace Prize after negotiating a settlement to the Arab-Israeli disputes of 1948 and 1949.
An American scholar and diplomat, Bunche helped write the charter for the newly organized United Nations (UN) in the 1940s and served the UN in several capacities, eventually functioning as undersecretary general from 1955 to 1971. He also worked for civil rights throughout his life and served on the board of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) for 22 years.
Continuing to work at the UN, he became an undersecretary in 1955. In 1969 this title was changed to undersecretary general of the UN. Until his retirement from the UN in 1971 Bunche directed peacekeeping operations for the UN and was also responsible for the UN program on peaceful uses of atomic energy.Throughout his life Bunche worked to improve race relations and further the cause of civil rights.
For 22 years he served on the board of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), earning its highest honor, the Spingarn Medal, in 1949. He participated in several civil rights demonstrations, including the 1963 March on Washington. That same year, U.S. President John F. Kennedy awarded him the Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian award.
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