Ralph J. Bunche (1903-1971) was the first African American and the first person of color to win the Nobel Peace Prize, an honor he received in 1950 in recognition of his successful mediation of the Armistice Agreements between Arab nations and Israel. It was the first and only time in the long history of the Middle East conflict that peace agreements were signed by all of the nations involved. For almost two decades, as Undersecretary General of the United Nations, Bunche was celebrated worldwide for his contributions to humanity, particularly in the areas of peacekeeping, decolonization, human rights and civil rights. A little known fact is that Bunche was the chief drafter of the sections of the U.N. Charter that deal with trusteeship and decolonization at the San Francisco Conference of 1945. Some popular accounts of the 1965 Selma March also overlook the fact that an ailing Bunche joined arms with Martin Luther King to lead the procession.
Bunche was valedictorian of UCLA’s Class of 1927, received his master’s degree in Political Science from Harvard in 1928, and for the next six years alternated between teaching at Howard University and working toward the doctorate at Harvard. He completed his dissertation in 1934 and did postdoctoral research in anthropology at Northwestern University, the London School of Economics, and Capetown University in South Africa.