Ralph Bunche House

Ralph Johnson Bunche (August 7, 1903 - December 9, 1971) was an African-American political scientist, diplomat, scholar, civil rights activist, and Nobel Prize winner. Bunche is most celebrated for his accomplishments while working at the United Nations, which he helped found. While at the U.N., Bunche was a leading figure in the decolonization movement and the Arab-Israeli conflict in Palestine. His mediation efforts during the conflict in Palestine earned him a Nobel Peace Prize in 1950, making Bunche the first African-American to earn the award. Upon his return following the armistice, he received a hero’s welcome in New York, where a ticker-tape parade was held in his honor. 

Bunche was born in Detroit, Michigan, to parents Fred Bunche and Olive (Johnson) Bunche, as the oldest of two siblings. His father was a barber in a whites-only shop, while his mother was an amateur musician. He also had a younger sister, Grace, born in 1915. Little is known about Bunche’s childhood in Detroit; he had a modest upbringing, although his family struggled with finances. When Bunche was about ten years old, his family moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico, after his mother developed rheumatic fever upon the birth of his younger sister, Grace. Despite hopes that the arid New Mexico climate would help his mother’s ailing health, she died shortly after the move. Shortly after, Bunche’s father died for unknown reasons, leaving Bunche and his sister orphans. 

After the death of his parents, he moved in with his maternal grandmother, Lucy Taylor Johnson, in Los Angeles, California. Bunche’s grandmother lived in a bungalow in a primarily white neighborhood, where Bunche would be subjected to racism. Recognizing Bunche’s potential and sage-like wisdom, his grandmother enrolled him and his sister at a local public school and encouraged him to aspire to a college education. Despite some school officials wanting to enroll Bunche in a vocational program, his grandmother insisted that her grandson receive a college preparatory education.

Bunche maintained strong ties to education throughout his life. In high school, Bunche excelled intellectually and graduated as valedictorian of Jefferson High School. With the encouragement and support of his grandmother, Bunche accepted a scholarship from the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA), where he studied international relations. At UCLA, Bunche was an active student; he played on the school’s basketball and football teams, participated in debate and journalism clubs, served as a Phi Beta Kappa honor society member, and worked multiple jobs to support his education. In 1927, Bunche graduated with his Bachelor of Arts at the top of his class. Later, Bunche continued his studies, earning his master's and doctorate from Harvard University in 1934, becoming the first African American to earn a doctorate in political science. While earning his doctorate, Bunche worked as a political science professor at Howard University. Following his time at the United Nations, Bunche served as a New York City Board of Education member from 1958 to 1964 and was a trustee for the New Lincoln School in New York City. Bunche fiercely advocated for the desegregation of New York City Schools. 

Outside of his diplomatic career, Bunche was heavily involved with the Civil Rights Movement throughout the 1950s and 1960s. He frequently criticized America’s social systems, specifically segregation and racial oppression, arguing they were incompatible with democracy. Bunche participated in several marches led by Martin Luther King Jr., most notably the 1963 March on Washington and the 1965 Selma March. Moreover, he actively served on the board of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) from 1949 until his death. Bunche’s support of the Civil Rights Movement demonstrated his commitment to racial justice and equality. 

Ralph Bunche died in New York at the age of sixty-seven due to complications with kidney and heart-related diseases. Many regarded him as one of the most accomplished and brilliant figures of his time, including President John F. Kennedy, who bestowed him with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1963. Over the course of his career, he earned several doctorates, honors, and accolades, overcoming racial and systemic barriers. Bunche’s accomplishments and support for human rights, education, racial justice, and decolonization cemented him as an influential figure in Black History for decades to come.


Biography. "Ralph Bunche." Biography. Last modified May 19, 2021. https://www.biography.com/political-figures/ralph-bunche.

Haberman, Frederick W. "The Nobel Peace Prize 1950: Ralph Bunche Biographical." The Nobel Prize. Haberman, Frederick W., ed. "The Nobel Peace Prize 1950: Ralph Bunche Biographical ." NobelPrize.org. Accessed September 26, 2023. https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/peace/1950/bunche/biographical/.

McFadden, Robert D. "Dr. Bunche of U.N., Nobel Winner, Dies." The New York Times, December 10, 1971. https://www.nytimes.com/1971/12/10/archives/dr-bunche-of-un-nobel-winner-dies-dr-ralph-j-bunche-of-un-is-dead.html.

Stanford University. "Bunche, Ralph Johnson." Stanford University: The Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute. https://kinginstitute.stanford.edu/bunche-ralph-johnson.

Watson, Elwood. "Ralph J. Bunche (ca. 1903-1971)." BlackPast. Last modified October 17, 2013. https://www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/bunche-ralph-j-ca-1903-1971/.