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RALPH BUNCHE

Ralph Bunche Ralph Bunche

Ralph Bunche is yet another huge African-American personality who you will rarely hear glorified, but played a monumental role in U.S. and World Affairs. He came from very humble beginnings and propelled himself to become a celebrated American Diplomat and Statesman. He is mostly remembered for his role in the formation and activities of the United Nations, but more importantly for his life-long efforts to make this world a better place for everybody. His efforts to achieve peace in the Middle-East, often at serious risk to his life, earned him the Nobel Peace Prize in 1950, the first for an African-American. He played a central role to quell the violence that preceded the creation of the Jewish State of Israel and narrowly escaped an assasination attempt in Jerusalem in 1948 that sadly killed his long-time partner Count Bernadote of Sweden and French Diplomat Colonel Andre Serot. Bernadote was the United Nations Mediator in the Middle-East and Ralph Bunche was his assistant. After his death in 1948, Bunche took over the position as UN Mediator in the Middle-East. It is widely believed that Colonel Serot's bullet was originally intended for Bunche because he was always known to accompany Bernadote on their various UN missions. Luckily for Bunche on that fateful day, he got tied up elsewhere. Bunche's extensive research work in Africa also opened up the continent to the world and put to rest stereotypical views that had been held about the continent before.

He was born Ralph Johnson Bunch on August 7th 1904 in the U.S. city of Detroit Michigan to Fred Bunch and Olive Agnes Johnson. His father Fred was a barber and from all accounts, never stabilized economically. In September 1914, The Bunch family relocated to Alberqueque, New Mexico. Ralph's maternal Grandmother Lucy Johnson or Nana as they called her thought the clean dry mountain air in New Mexico might help her daughter Olive who was suffering from Lung disease. Olive's poor health however deteriorated further and in February 1917, she died of Tuberculosis. This came as a serious blow to the Bunch family, and especially so to her husband Fred Bunch. After his wife's death, the devastated Fred Bunch became a drifter, moving from town to town looking for work. The worst part about it however was that his kids never got to see him again, because he deserted them. Nana quickly sensing the negative effect this new development would have on young Ralph and his sister, moved them from New Mexico to Los Angeles in 1917. They settled in a middle-class white neighbourhood called Watts. She wanted to give the kids not only a new setting but a new start in life too. To signify their new start in life, she gave them a new family name Bunche.

Young Ralph greatly admired and got a lot of strength from Nana. Later in life he would say this about her, "She was small-almost tiny....soft spoken and shy. But she was strong, very strong in character, will and spirit." In 1917 young Ralph enrolled at Thirtieth Street Intermediate School(now John Adams Junior High) in Los Angeles, California. The teachers at Thirtieth Street were quick to assign him vocational courses because they figured that being black, Ralph would never aspire for college. Nana however had other plans for them. She went back and instructed them to assign Ralph college preparatory courses. Ralph did not let Nana down and excelled in his studies. He then proceeded to Jefferson High School also in Los Angeles where he graduated in 1922, at the top of his graduating class.

In 1922, Ralph enrolled at the University of California at Los Angeles(UCLA). It was Nana who encouraged the young Ralph to enroll at UCLA rather than enjoy his youthful life after getting out of High School. As a class Valedictorian in High School, Ralph's ego had soared and he thought he had all his life figured out. He had wanted to stay off college for a few years just to enjoy life. It took Nana's strong influence and guidance to show him that even with his excellent High School grades, he still had a lot of work to do, and college was the perfect place to start. He was an all-rounded student at UCLA, doing well in both academics and extracurricular activities. He wrote for the UCLA Newspaper The Daily Bruin and also tried his hand at Football and Basketball at UCLA. In 1927 he graduated with top honours from UCLA. His academic brilliance at UCLA earned him a Fellowship to the prestigious Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. In 1928, he went on to obtain a Masters of Arts Degree in Political Science from Harvard University and then proceeded to teach at Howard University in Washington, DC. At Howard University he organized and chaired the first Political Science Department. It was also at Howard University in 1928 that he met Ruth Ethel Harris, a night student who he later married in 1930.

In the Fall of 1929, Ralph returned to Harvard to pursue his Ph.D in Political Science and International relations. His dissertation paper at Harvard was titled "French Administration in Togoland & Dahomey." Both these were French colonies in Africa(Togoland-now Togo and Dahomey-now Benin). The idea was to find out whether the League of Nations(later UN) made any difference in the French Administration of these African colonies. He was awarded a Rosenwald Fellowship to spend the 1931-32 academic year in Europe and Africa(France and its colonies). He concluded that the League of Nations made little difference to the French administration of Togoland and Dahomey. In the Fall of 1933 he left for Cambridge, England to put finishing touches to his Doctoral Dissertation paper(some 450 pages long). In February 1934, he obtained his Ph.D from Harvard University, the first for an Afro-American in Political Science.

His first book was published in 1936 called A World View of Race. It was a sociological study of race relations in the U.S. and elsewhere. That same year he sailed to Capetown, South Africa to get a firsthand look at race relations there. In 1937, Bunche and his family took off on a trip to London, England. In London, he stayed at the London School of Economics where he met a lot of budding world leaders who were studying there. Among the most charming students he met there was Kenya's Jomo Kenyatta. Bunche was so impressed with Kenyatta that he promised to visit his ancestral home on his on his next African trip. When the rest of his family departed for the U.S. after their European trip, Bunche embarked on a solo trip to Africa, and surely enough visited Kenyatta's ancestral village in Central Kenya. He was warmly received by Kenyatta's kinsmen who gave him the Kikuyu name Kariuki meaning "returned from the dead." In 1939 he partnered with Swedish Sociologist Gunnar Myrdal to conduct a study on black and white relations in the U.S. This report commonly referred to as the Myrdal report, was later published into a book called The American Dilemna in 1944. This report opened the door to black civil rights campaigns.

Ralph's debut in government came in 1940 when he got a job with a Federal Agency, The Office of Coordinator of Information(COI). The COI was basically a propaganda machine aimed at winning American public opinion in the war effort(WWII). It was a branch of the Office of Strategic Services(now CIA). In September 1941, he was appointed Senior Social Science Analyst at the COI. While with the COI, Bunche worked very hard to justify the war effort to Americans, and especially to his African-American community which saw no sense in America fighting a war to liberate Europe while they never enjoyed equal rights with other American citizens. Bunche's hard work paid off as a lot of blacks joined the war effort. In January 1944 he joined the U.S. State Department. As an ofiicer in the State Department, he was among a handful of people selected as part of a U.S. delegation at the drafting of the United Nations Charter in San Francisco, California in February 1945. Another prominent Afro-American at the drafting was W.E.B DuBois.

In January 1946 he was appointed as a member of the United Nations General Assembly. As a result he was a U.S. delegate at the first UN General Assembly session in London, that was also attended by then U.S. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, plus a bunch of other world dignitaries. That same year 1946, Norwegian Diplomat Trygve Lie was appointed the first UN Secretary-General. In 1947, Britain officially handed over control of Palestine to the UN. The UN then drew a map dividing Palestine into the Jewish territory, Arab territory, and Jerusalem as a neutral international city. In May 1948, the State of Israel was officially established. This enraged the neighbouring Arab states, who immediately attacked Israel, leading to an all out war between the Jewish State and its surrounding Arab neighbours. The UN managed to put up a hurried cease fire to this conflict, eventhough the area continued to be a hotbed for turmoil. In 1948 Bunche was appointed representative of the UN Secretary-General in the Palestine Mediation process. At that time the Chief Mediator in Palestine(working for an agreement between the Jews and the Arabs) was Swedish Diplomat Count Bernadotte. When Bernadotte was assasinated in September 1948, Bunche succeeded him as the Chief Mediator.

In October 1948 Egypt attacked an Israeli convoy resulting in an all out Israeli retaliation. During these hostilities, Bunche shuttled between Cairo and Tel-Aviv trying to broker a cease fire. He finally managed one on January 6th 1949 eventhough by that time the original UN map for Palestine had been significantly altered. With the war, Israel gained much more territory than had been been allocated by the UN, while Egypt held on to the Gaza Strip and Jordan the West Bank. In April 1949, Israel and Jordan signed a peace agreement and later that summer, Israel signed another peace agreement with Syria. Bunche's efforts to secure an armistice between Israel and Egypt earned him the NAACP Spingarn medal in 1949 and later the Nobel Peace Prize in 1950, another first for an Afro-American. He then went on to become an Undersecretary of the UN in 1955 and in 1956 was placed in charge of the UN Peace-keeping operation during the Suez Canal crisis. This crisis had been as a result of then Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser nationalizing the Suez Canal, previously under the control of the French and British(since 1875). Nasser's actions prompted a three pronged attack on Egypt by France, Britain and Israel. The so-called Tripartite attacks generated worldwide criticism, including from the U.S. because it pitted 3 major world powers against a third world country. While these attacks augured negatively on France, Britain and Israel, they helped elevate Nasser to Iconic status in the Arab world.

In 1963, Ralph Bunche was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by then U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson, the highest civilian honour in the U.S. Bunche had been nominated for the award by President John F. Kennedy, who had sadly fell victim to an assasin's bullet a few months earlier. Bunche retired from the UN in 1971 and died the same year on December 9th.

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