Sputnik Escalates the Cold War
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Bunche, Ralph Johnson (1904–1971)

African American political scientist, civil rights activist, and diplomat. Born on 7 August 1904 in Detroit, Michigan, Ralph Bunche was orphaned in 1917 and moved to Los Angeles, where he was raised by his grandmother. He earned a bachelor's degree in political science and philosophy at the University of California, Los Angeles, in 1927, and in 1928 he earned an MA degree in political science from Harvard University. Over the next six years, while working on his doctorate, Bunche taught political science at Howard University. In 1934 he was awarded a doctorate in government and international relations from Harvard University, and he then pursued postdoctoral research in anthropology in the United States, London, and South Africa.

Although Bunche was an expert in African politics, he also studied U.S. race relations and joined civil rights protests on several occasions. During World War II, he worked as a social science analyst for the U.S. government and served as an advisor in the negotiations that led to the formation of the United Nations (UN) in 1945. As a member of the newly created UN Secretariat, he became an expert on Palestinian affairs.

In 1950, Bunche became the first person of color to receive the Nobel Peace Prize for his successful efforts in negotiating an armistice agreement between Egypt and Israel after the first Arab-Israeli War. Four years later, he was appointed undersecretary-general of the UN. In 1956 he supervised UN peacekeeping operations in the Middle East after the Suez Crisis, and he organized subsequent peacekeeping missions in the Congo (1960) and Cyprus (1962). Bunche died on 9 December 1971 in New York City.

Simon Wendt


Further Reading
Urquhart, Brian. Ralph Bunche: An American Life. New York: Norton, 1993.
 

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