Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Ralph Johnson Bunche (August 7, 1904 - December 9, 1971) was an American political scientist and diplomat who received the 1950 Nobel Peace Prize for his mediation in Palestine in the late 1940s that led to an armistice agreement between the Jews and Arabs in the region.
Bunche was born in Detroit, Michigan to an African-American family; his father was a barber, his mother an amateur musician. They moved to Los Angeles when he was a child to improve his parents' health. His parents died soon after, and he was raised by his grandmother, who looked "white" but was an active member of the black community. Bunche was a brilliant student, the valedictorian of his graduating class at Jefferson High School. Bunche attended the University of California, Los Angeles, graduating in 1927. With the assistance of money raised in his community and a scholarship from Harvard University, he studied for a master's degree and ultimately a doctorate in political science, the latter while teaching at Howard University.
World War II years
Bunche spent time during World War II in the Office of Strategic Services (the predecessor of the Central Intelligence Agency) before joining the State Department. He participated in the preliminary planning for the United Nations at the San Francisco Conference of 1945, and in 1946 he was a member of the first U.S. delegation to the U.N. He then became an employee of the U.N. as the first Director of its new Trusteeship Department, at the appointment of Secretary-General Trygve Lie.
Beginning in 1947, he was involved with the Arab-Israeli conflict. He served as assistant to the U.N. Special Committee on Palestine, and thereafter as the principal secretary of the U.N. Palestine Commission. In 1948 he traveled to the Middle East as the chief aide to Count Folke Bernadotte, who had been appointed by the U.N. to attempt to mediate the conflict. In September, Bernadotte was assassinated by members of the Stern Gang. Bunche became the U.N.'s chief mediator and concluded the task with the signing of the 1949 Armistice Agreements, the work for which he received the Peace Prize and many other honors.
He continued to work for the United Nations, mediating in other strife-torn regions including The Congo, Yemen, Kashmir, and Cyprus, eventually rising to the position of undersecretary-general in 1968.
Bunche died in 1971 and is buried in Woodlawn Cemetery in The Bronx. A bust of Ralph Bunche, on the entrance to Bunche Hall, overlooks the Sculpture Garden at UCLA. Ralph Bunche Park is in New York City, across First Avenue from the United Nations headquarters.
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