Dr. Ralph J. Bunche
(Harry Harris/AP/Shutterstock)

Black History Trailblazers of the 1950s: Dr. Ralph J. Bunche, The Nobel Laureate

In our ongoing celebration of Black History Month, we look back at some of the leaders, icons and pop culture juggernauts that helped to bring diversity, equity, inclusion and representation to the forefront of the American landscape — like these men and women who left their indelible mark on the 1950s. 

 

By arranging a cease-fire between the Israelis and the Arabs during the war, which followed the creation of the state of Israel, Dr. Ralph J. Bunche changed the face of history — and made history in his own right.

Born in Detroit in 1904, Bunche spent the early years of his life immersed in his studies as his family moved from state to state — from Michigan to Ohio and then New Mexico — looking for work. By the time he was 18, Bunche was again in a new school, Los Angeles’ Jefferson High School. But despite the constant moves, his studies never suffered, and Bunche ended up graduating as his class valedictorian. 

From there, the star academic, debater and athlete chose to attend the University of California, Los Angeles, where he would study political science. And again, he excelled, graduating with honors. Bunche next decided to dedicate his great intellect and political acumen to diplomacy. He earned admissions to Harvard University and ultimately achieved a doctorate in political science.

After completing his education, Bunche taught at Howard University, where he founded the HBCU’s political science department. He then took a major career leap and went to work at the State Department. Even with World War II raging, his diplomatic journey thrived. He worked with Eleanor Roosevelt to help draft the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and became a United Nations mediator helping navigate the growing tensions between Arabs and Jews in Palestine. 

Known as an “incurable optimist” and a firm believer in the power and effectiveness of diplomacy in all situations, Bunche’s dedication and passion for that role ultimately helped him to become the first person of color to win the Nobel Peace Prize.

While awarding the honor to Bunche, the organization called out his own teachings, citing the power of mediators and diplomats he promoted while back at Howard.

 “They should be biased against war and for peace,” Bunche said. “They should have a bias which would lead them to believe in the essential goodness of their fellow man and that no problem of human relations is insoluble. They should be biased against suspicion, intolerance, hate, religious and racial bigotry.”

Accepting his history-making Nobel Peace Prize, Bunche added:  “The objective of any who sincerely believe in peace clearly must be to exhaust every honorable recourse in the effort to save the peace.”

Bunche’s humanitarian, diplomatic work continued to soar for more than two decades, and in 1963, he was also awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his groundbreaking and unflinching humanistic view of diplomacy.

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