1903 : Dr. Ralph Bunche Born in Detroit

August 7, 2018 all-day

Painting of Ralph Bunche, courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

In 1934, Bunche received a doctorate at Harvard. His doctoral thesis was a study of colonialism and it brought him a grant to study the status of non-European peoples in Africa. After four years he returned to the U.S. to work with Swedish sociologist Gunnar Myrdal surveying the conditions of Blacks in America. The work was not without danger — several times they were chased from Alabama towns by angry white mobs. Their surveys led to the publication of Myrdal’s widely acclaimed 1944 book, “An American Dilemma.”

During the Second World War Bunche served as a specialist in African and Far Eastern Affairs for the Office of Strategic Services, (the predecessor of the Central Intelligence Agency) where he helped prepare for the allied invasion of North Africa. He went to work at the State Department in 1945, becoming the first black to hold a desk job there.

Because of his expertise in the field of colonial affairs and trusteeship (the process of setting up transitional govemments for countries moving toward independence), Bunche was the logical choice in 1947 to direct the Trusteeship Division at the United Nations.

He was appointed head of the UN Palestine Commission, where he drafted the United Nations’ Palestine partition plan which culminated in the creation of the state of Israel. As war broke out between Israelis and Arabs, Bunche’s task was to mediate between the two sides and to set up a peaceful cease-fire. In 1949, after 81 days of negotiations, Bunche worked out the “Four Armistice Agreements.”

Bunche won worldwide admiration for his role in these delicate negotiations and was given a hero’s welcome on his return to New York, complete with tickertape parade. Egyptian and Israeli diplomats hailed him as “one of the great men of the world” and in 1950 he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Dr. Bunche continued at the United Nations, serving as undersecretary until illness forced his retirement and led to his death on Dec. 9, 1971.

His wife would visit Detroit in 1972 to witness the unveiling of a historical marker at his birthplace.

For the full article, see Laurie J. Marzejka, “Dr. Ralph Bunche — from Detroit to the world stage”, Detroit News, August 29, 1997.

“The Remarkable Life of Dr. Ralph J. Bunch”, Detroit Historical Society Blog, February 27, 2015.

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