On December 10, 1950, political scientist and diplomat Ralph Bunche became the first African-American to win the Nobel Peace Prize. In his acceptance speech, the late Dr. Bunche addressed racial inequality around the globe and made a call for true world peace.
Ralph Johnson Bunche, a Detroit native, attended UCLA and graduated both “summa cum laude” and Phi Beta Kappa before winning a scholarship to attend Harvard University. With the scholarship and fundraising from friends and family, he entered the vaunted institution to earn his master’s and Ph. D in political science while also teaching at Howard University. He became the first African-American to earn a Ph. D in political science from an American university.
Bunche worked for the Office of Strategic Services, the precursor to the CIA, before joining the State Department. In 1945, Bunche was part of the United States delegation of the United Nations charter conference. Because of that, some historians view Bunche as one of the founding fathers of the organization.
Between 1947 and 1949, Bunche was the lead mediator between the Israelis and Palestinians in the Arab-Israeli conflict. For his efforts and for pushing for the signing for the 1949 Armistice Agreements that ended the conflict, Bunche was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
During the acceptance speech in Oslo, Norway, Bunche’s brief address served as a harbinger of his support of the civil rights movement.
“I am not unaware, of course, of the special and broad significance of this award – far transcending its importance or significance to me as an individual – in an imperfect and restive world in which inequalities among peoples, racial and religious bigotries, prejudices and taboos are endemic and stubbornly persistent,” Bunche said.
He added, “From this northern land has come a vibrant note of hope and inspiration for vast millions of people whose bitter experience has impressed upon them that color and inequality are inexorably concomitant.”
Bunche went on to serve in the U.N. For several more years before becoming the under-secretary-general in 1968. He passed in 1971.
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