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*Ralph J. Bunche was born on this date in 1904; he was a Black scholar and diplomat known for his work in the United Nations.
He was born in Detroit, Michigan. He graduated from the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) in 1927 and earned a doctorate in government and international relations from Harvard University in 1934. He taught political science at Howard University while completing his doctorate work at Harvard. From 1938 until 1940, he worked with the Swedish sociologist Gunnar Myrdal on a classical study of blacks that resulted in Myrdal's 1944 book, An American Dilemma: The Negro Problem and American Democracy.
During World War II, Dr. Bunche served in the Office of Strategic Services from 1941 to 1944 and joined the United States Department of State in 1944; in 1945, he became the first Black to head a departmental division in the federal government, the Division of Dependent Area Affairs. An expert on trusteeship matters, Ralph 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 to recognize the state of Israel. Bunche won international recognition for his skill as a mediator, and he was awarded the 1950 Nobel Peace Prize after negotiating the four armistice agreements that halted the 1948-1949 Arab-Israeli War. 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 he retired from the UN in 1971, Bunche directed peacekeeping operations for the United Nations and was 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. Ralph Bunche died in 1971.
The Encyclopedia of African American Heritage
by Susan Altman
Copyright 1997, Facts on File, Inc. New York