Ralph Bunche, who won the 1950 Nobel Peace Prize for his mediation during the Arab-Israeli conflict, was bom in Detroit, Michigan. He moved to his grandmother’s in Los Angeles, California, after losing his parents at the age of 12.
Bunche graduated from Jefferson High School in 1922, and graduated summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa from the Univer¬ sity of California in 1927. With a B.A. in international relations, he entered Harvard University and graduated with an M.A. in government in 1928. Taking an immediate position in the political science department of Howard University, Bunche assisted president Mordecai Johnson (see no. 49) for a year before beginning doctoral studies at Harvard.
Continuing with postdoctoral work in the US and Britain after winning the Toppan Prize in 1934 for his dissertation, Bunche came to the attention of the Office of Strate¬ gic Services (OSS). During World War II, Bunche was hired by the OSS to assist the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He was then chosen to participate in the early planning sessions of an important new world council, the United Nations (UN). Bunche was made the direc¬ tor of the Tmsteeship Division and was invited to serve on the special committee on Palestine.
After World War II, there was a great deal of highly sensitive mediation involved in partitioning Palestine in order to design the current state of Israel. In 1948, Ralph Bunche became the UN mediator in Pales¬ tine and designed the plan to divide Pales¬ tine into Jewish and Arab lands and place the coveted city of Jerusalem under UN supervision.
The conflict between the Arabs and Israelis was a delicate situation, and an important one to a world not yet recovered from World War II. In 1949, Bunche was able to bring about a tmce, and in 1950, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for bringing the conflict to a close.
A highly-respected mediator, and a ded¬ icated civil rights activist, Bunche used his influential name to support the NAACP and other civil rights leaders in the US and Africa. He also continued to influence international politics through his appointment as the UN Undersecre¬ tary for Special Political Affairs.
He was instmmental in the proceedings that brought an almost unanimous vote from the General Assembly to denounce apartheid and call for the release of political prisoners in South Africa.
Ralph Bunche resigned from the UN in 1971, after having used his entire career to support the ideals of peace and justice. He died without seeing the country of South Africa dismantle its system of apartheid, partly due to the American economic boycott.