Ralph J. Bunche Center Howard University

Dr. Ralph J. Bunche

(August 7, 1904 – December 9, 1971)                                                                     

Ralph Johnson Bunche was born in Detroit , MI .  Following the death of his parents, Bunche was reared in Los Angeles by his maternal grandmother. He graduated summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa from UCLA in 1927 and completed a doctorate in Political Science at Harvard in 1934.

 Bunche served as a professor and founding head of the Political Science Department at Howard University from 1928 to 1941, at which point he entered government service as an analyst with the Office of Strategic Services. In 1944, he became an advisor to the State Department and ultimately the U.S. delegation to the 1945 San Francisco conference that drafted the charter of the new United Nations Organization.  He is considered by many to be one of the founding fathers of the United Nations.

 In 1946 Bunche joined the United Nations Secretariat and in 1948 became chief mediator between the Israelis and Palestinians. For his efforts, Bunche was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1950. Until his death in 1971, Bunche held additional senior positions at the UN, including Under Secretary for Special Political Affairs.

Bunche is buried in Woodlawn Cemetery in The Bronx. A bust of Ralph Bunche is at  the entrance of Bunche Hall, overlooking the Sculpture Garden at UCLA.  Ralph Bunche Park is in New York City, across First Avenue from the United Nations headquarters.  The Ralph J. Bunche International Affairs Center is located in Washington, DC on the Campus of Howard University. Ralph Bunche’s house is in the Brookland neighborhood of Washington, DC, where he resided for many years.

External Links:

 Ralph Bunche: An American Odyssey documentary Home Page:


Ralph Bunche Centenary Home Page:


 UCLA Library Ralph Bunche Exhibit:



Ralph Bunche

An American Odyssey

 Author, Brian Urquhart         

Copyright © 1993 by Brian Urquhart, All rights reserved.                           Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data ISBN 0-393-03527-1


On a damp Mediterranean winter day in early January 1949, the white aircraft of the United Nations mediator in Palestine brought Ralph Bunche to the island of Rhodes . He had come to undertake what was widely regarded as an impossible task, the negotiation neighbors. On his success rested the hope of an end to the war that had plagued the Middle East since the proclamation of the state of Israel eight months before.

 When Bunche had left Rhodes more than three months earlier, he was in shock from assassination by the Stern Gang in Jerusalem , of his friend the UN mediator Count Folke Bernadotte. Now, as Bernadotte’s successor, he faced a task as urgent as it was daunting. In the next few months, in a virtuoso display of personality, stamina, and skill, he successfully negotiated the four armistice agreements and gave the Middle East seven years’ respite from war, as well as the vital first step toward a peaceful settlement- a settlement that, tragically, has not yet come about. Some called Bunche the new Colossus of Rhodes , and he was universally recognized as a major international resource for a world in turmoil and transition.

 Bunche brought to his vocation in the United Nation the vitality and spirit of a remarkable family, the intellect of a scholar, the analytical skill and experience of a field anthropologist, and the passion for justice of a member of an oppressed minority. Before coming to the United Nations he was already known as a strong and radical voice in the fight for racial equality and civil rights in the United States, as the leading American expert on Africa and on colonial affairs, as one of the authors of the Charter of the United Nations, and as a determined advocate of de-colonization.

 Bunche’s achievement as mediator in Palestine , for which he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, made his name known all over the world. He continued, until his death more than twenty years later, to work at the United Nations as its principal negotiator of international conflicts and keeping operations. He gave an example of international service which has never been matched either in its effectiveness or in its integrity. “I rely only on reason, candor and truth,” he wrote just before his death. “They stand firm enough without support from emotion.”

 Throughout his years of success and public acclaim, Ralph Bunche remained as he had always been- down-to-earth, humorous, kindly, and unpretentious. He continued to be more concerned with achieving results than with getting the credit for them, more interested in people than in celebrities, more moved by struggles of the young and the disadvantaged than by the caprices and favors of the great and famous. He forgot neither where he had come from nor the very real and unresolved human problems which the UN had been set up to tackle. He was intensely proud to be both American and black, but was strongly critical of America ’s failures, especially as regards his own people. He never wavered in his conviction that the United Nation must, and could, be made to work. As the third secretary-general of the UN, U Thant, said of him at his death, he was “an international institution in his own right.”



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Ralph J. Bunche International Affairs Center, Howard University
2218 Sixth Street, NW, Washington, DC 20059
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