Who was Ralph Bunche?

   Ralph Bunche (1904-1971) was the first African American awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. He received this honor in 1950 for his work as a United Nations mediator in the Middle East.

   Bunche, the grandson of a slave, was born in Detroit, Michigan, on August 7, 1904. His parents died when he was 13, and he and his sister went to live with their grandmother in California. He received a scholarship to the University of California but still had to take odd jobs to pay for his books, meals, and transport. Nevertheless he managed to play on three basketball championship teams and to graduate with highest honors. He continued his education at Harvard University, receiving an M.A. degree in 1928.

   Bunche began his career teaching political science at Howard University and, soon after, married Ruth Harris, who had been one of his students. The couple had three children. Bunche left Howard for a time to continue his studies at Harvard and received a Ph.D. de­gree in 1934.

   From 1938 to 1940, Bunche worked as the chief assistant to Swedish sociologist Gunnar Myrdal on a survey of race relations in Amer­ica. The result was an important book titled An American Dilemma (1944). He later worked for the U.S. government, eventually becoming the first black to head a division of the U.S. State Department. In 1946 he accepted a permanent post at the United Nations.

   In 1948, war broke out between Israel and its Arab neighbors. Count Folke Bernadotte was appointed by the United Nations to help end the dispute. When Bernadotte was assassinated, Bunche took his place. He received the Nobel Peace Prize for his role in persuading the warring countries to stop fighting.

   He continued to serve the United Nations in various troubled parts of the world, including the Congo (now Zaire) and Cyprus as well as the Middle East. From 1967 until his retirement in 1971, he was the undersecretary-general of the United Nations. Bunche died on December 9, 1971.