Culture

Remembering Dr. Ralph Bunche, The First Black Person To Win A Nobel Peace Prize

Remembering Dr. Ralph Bunche, The First Black Person To Win A Nobel Peace Prize

We stand on the shoulders of giants.

In honor of trailblazing political scientist Dr. Ralph Bunche, we remember his historic Nobel Peace Prize win of 1950.

Dr. Ralph Bunche was born on August 7, 1904, in Detroit, Michigan. According to Howard University, Bunche was raised 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, becoming the first Black person to receive a doctorate in the field.

Bunche served as a professor and founding head of the Political Science Department at Howard University from 1928 to 1941, before going to study colonial policy in West Africa. He then joined Swedish social scientist Gunnar Myrdal who was researching racial segregation in the U.S. Bunche’s work with Myrdal would serve as the foundation for his later work, with Bunche becoming the first Black person to hold a high ranking position in the State Department during World War II. 

In 1946, Bunche joined the United Nations (UN) service, being sent to the Middle East the following year by Secretary-General Trygve Lie to help create a plan for dividing Palestine between Arabs and Jews. Arab officials dismissed resolutions made by the UN regarding a Jewish state and went to war against Israel. Chief UN negotiator Folke Bernadotte was murdered during the war in 1948, and Bunche succeeded him in the role. A year later, after strenuous negotiations, Bunche arranged a cease-fire between the Israeli and Arab people. In 1950, he became the first Black American to receive a Nobel Peace Prize due to his negotiation of the 1949 Armistice Agreements. 

Over the course of his life, Bunche played several roles, including educator, social justice activist, and author. Throughout his career, he received more than four dozen honorary doctorate degrees, helped found the United Nations, became a professor at Harvard University, brokered peace in the Middle East, Africa, and the Mediterranean, and received the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom from President John Kennedy. On December 9, 1971, Bunche passed after suffering from kidney and heart disease in New York City at 67.

Thank you for your immense contributions, Dr. Bunche. 

Photo Courtesy of National Museum of American Diplomacy