The Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies, founded in 1969 as the Center for Afro-American Studies (CAAS), was renamed after Nobel Prize winner, scholar, activist, and UCLA alumnus Ralph J. Bunche in 2003, in commemoration of the centenary of his birth.
The Bunche Center is the result of the struggle by black students at UCLA to have their history and culture recognized and studied. While the fight to have African American Studies acknowledged as a legitimate field of study was taking place all over America during the 1960s, it took on special significance at UCLA when two Black Panthers were killed at Campbell Hall in January 1969 after a clash over who would lead the center.
Alprentice “Bunchy” Carter and John Huggins, leaders in the Los Angeles chapter of the Black Panther Party, were shot and killed. Two brothers, who were members of the rival Black power group, the US Organization, were convicted for the murders, but escaped from prison in 1974. One of the brothers surrendered to authorities in South America many years later.
UCLA students had written a proposal for the center in 1968 and 1969 that documented the need for Black Americans to be educated about their history and culture; to lessen their vulnerability to the “corrosive effects of American racism” and to give them the tools required to “understand and control the forces and attitudes presently shaping their lives.”
The Bunche Center was established as an Organized Research Unit (ORU), with the mission to develop and strengthen African American Studies through five primary organizational branches: research, academic programs, library and media center, special projects, and publications.
The Center supports research that (1) expands the knowledge of the history, lifestyles, and sociocultural systems of people of African descent and (2) investigates problems that have bearing on the psychological, social, and economic well being of persons of African descent. Research sponsored and conducted by the Bunche Center is multidisciplinary in scope and spans the humanities, social sciences, fine arts, and several professional schools.
The Center also administers three competitive scholarship programs–the Julian “Cannonball” Adderley Memorial Scholarship, the John Densmore Scholarship, and the Roxanne Chisholm and Jeanette Chisolm Moore Endowed Scholarship–that fund students majoring in Afro-American Studies and other disciplines.
The Bunche Center Library and Media Center (LMC) provides specialized information services to UCLA faculty, students, and staff and to researchers in the Southern California area at large. In so doing, it supports the academic programs and research projects in African American Studies and complements the resources of the UCLA library system.
The Special Projects division is responsible for the development and presentation of cultural and scholarly programming designed to enrich the experiences of the UCLA and off-campus communities. Among its notable activities is the annual Thurgood Marshall Lecture on Law and Human Rights. The Special Projects unit also interacts with businesses, cultural organizations, and other academic institutions to foster a better understanding of the Bunche Center mission, and the Special Projects staff plays a key role in fundraising efforts.
Interim Director Kelly Lytle Hernandez, History professor, administers the Center with the guidance of an advisory committee appointed by the Vice Provost for the Institute of American Cultures (IAC) and composed of faculty from across campus.
The Bunche Center is housed within the IAC, which was established in 1969 to promote the development of ethnic studies at UCLA by providing a structure for coordination of the four ethnic studies centers on campus (Bunche Center, Chicano Studies Research Center, Asian American Studies Center, and American Indian Studies Center). Through each center, the IAC awards annual pre-doctoral and post-doctoral fellowships and faculty and student research grants.
Every day the Center works to live up to the goals set forth by the founders and ‘provide a creative arena for educational development relevant to the lives and existence of African Americans.’
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