Ralph Bunche

(1904 – 1971)

In 1950 the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to an individual who temporarily brought an end to the bitter conflict between the Jews and Arabs in the Middle East. The man who received the award was not an Arab or Jew but a black American named Ralph Bunche.

Born in Detroit, Michigan, USA in 1904 his family moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico, in 1914. Three years later, his parents died, and his grandmother took young Ralph and his sister to Los Angeles. There he finished high school and enrolled at University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).

After graduation with the highest honours, Ralph enrolled at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, there he earned a masters degree.  While there, he met Dr Percy Julian, the great black chemist, who assisted him in getting a teaching post in the political science department at Howard University, Washington DC  Ralph was deeply discouraged by the segregation he found in Washington and returned to Harvard to get his PhD.

In 1936 Bunche published A World View of Race, in which he stated that racial prejudice exists partly because of economic needs. He wrote,

“The Negro was enslaved not because of his race but because there were very definite economic considerations which his enslavement served. The New World demanded his labour power…But his race was soon used (as the reason for) the inhuman institution of slavery.”

In 1944 Dr Bunche went to work for the US State Department, becoming the first African American acting chief of the Division Department of Area Affairs. At the close of World War II, he was involved in establishing the United Nations (UN). In 1946 he became the UN’s director of the Division of Trusteeship and Non- Self-Governing Territories. After the war many colonial territories, such as Africa, Asia, the Caribbean and the Middle East strove to become independent of European rule. This section worked to ‘protect’ the rights of people still under colonial control.

In 1959 Dr Bunche received the Nobel Peace Price for having brought about a truce between warring Jew and Arabs in Israel. Although fighting in the Middle East would break out again in the future, the truce was a major accomplishment. Not only did it bring temporary peace to the area but it also showed that the newly created United Nations was capable of acting firmly to end the conflict.

In 1960 Belgium withdrew its control over the Congo (now called Zaire), immediately, fighting broke out between different groups. Dr Bunche was sent to bring peace to the area. His action helped to prevent a major war in central Africa and gave the new government a chance to survive.

During the next few years, Dr, Bunch continued his diplomatic activities, working to end fighting on the island of Cypress, Supervising peacekeeping troops at Egypt’s Suez Canal, and serving as mediator in a dispute between India and Pakistan. In 1968 he became under- secretary general of the UN, the highest rank ever held by an American.

In a statement that explained much of his success, Ralph Bunche once said,

“I have a deep-seated bias against hate and intolerance. I have a bias against racial and religious bigotry. I have a bias against war: a bias for peace. 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.”

Read more about Ralphe Bunche