UCLA marks anniversary of Ralph J. Bunche receiving Nobel Peace Prize
By Letisia Marquez December 09, 2010
Dec. 10 marks the 60th anniversary of one of UCLA's most distinguished alumni, Ralph J. Bunche, receiving the Nobel Peace Prize.
Bunche, who was the first UCLA alumnus to win a Nobel prize, received the honor in 1950 for his leadership role in negotiating the landmark armistice agreements between Israel and Arab states in 1949. The agreements officially ended the Arab–Israeli War of 1948.
"In today's troubled world, 60 years after Dr. Ralph J. Bunche became the first African American to win the Nobel Peace Prize, his words are more relevant than ever," said Darnell Hunt, director of UCLA's Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies. "To paraphrase my favorite Bunche quote, the hopes of the peoples of the world can never be served until peace, freedom and self-respect are secure. Hopefully, this occasion will serve to remind us all of how essential these values truly are."
From June 1947 to August 1949, Bunche worked for the United Nations on the most important assignment of his career — the confrontation between Arabs and Jews in Palestine, according to the Nobel Prize website. After Count Folke Bernadotte, a UN mediator, was assassinated in 1948, Bunche was named acting UN mediator on Palestine.
After 11 months of virtually ceaseless negotiating, Bunche obtained signatures on the agreements between Israel and the Arab states.
Bunche returned home to a hero's welcome, according to the website. New York gave him a ticker tape welcome parade up Broadway, and Los Angeles declared Ralph Bunche Day. He was besieged with requests to lecture, was awarded the Spingarn Prize by the NAACP in 1949 and was given more than 30 honorary degrees over the next three years.
But his career as an international statesman started at UCLA.
"UCLA was where it all began for me, where, in a sense, I began," Bunche said when a prominent new academic building on campus was named in his honor in 1969. "College for me was the genesis and the catalyst."
Bunche was raised in the Watts section of Los Angeles by his grandmother, Lucy Taylor Johnson, who taught her grandson to believe in himself, in the value of education and work, and in the essential goodness of his fellow human beings.
As a political science major at UCLA, he excelled as a debater, wrote columns for the Daily Bruin, reigned as a star basketball player and ultimately graduated summa cum laude. Bunche, who had put himself through college with an athletic scholarship and a janitorial job, was UCLA's valedictorian in 1927.
When Bunche was accepted on scholarship to Harvard University for graduate studies, Los Angeles' African American community formed a scholarship fund for him, raising $1,000 toward his living expenses. While teaching at Howard University, he became the first African American to receive a Ph.D. in government and international relations at Harvard.
Always looking at place-localized racial conflict in a broader context, Bunche, the political scientist, contributed hundreds of pages of incisive, original research to Gunnar Myrdal's paradigm-establishing treatise on race, "An American Dilemma: The Negro Problem and Modern Democracy."
He died on Dec. 9, 1971, but his legacy has remained strong at UCLA.
On campus, Bunche is the namesake of the African American studies center and a prominent academic building, an endowed chair in international studies, and a scholarship that annually benefits between 100 and 150 undergraduates who have track records of academic excellence and community involvement.
The Charles E. Young Research Library Department of Special Collections also houses the Ralph J. Bunche papers and the Brian Urquhart Collection of Material about Ralph Bunche.
Most photos: UCLA Library Special Collections, Ralph J. Bunche Papers, 1927-71