This iconic UN mediator became the first black person to receive a Nobel Peace Prize

Francis Akhalbey December 10, 2018
Ralph Bunche (right) with Martin Luther King and Coretta Scott King -- Photo Credit: United Nations

On August 7, 1904, iconic African-American diplomat, civil rights activist, academic and political scientist Ralph Bunche was born in Detroit, Michigan.

A highly educated and intelligent individual, Bunche played an important role in the planning and formation of the United Nations. He was also touted as being very instrumental in the creation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly.

In 1947, during the Arab–Israeli conflict, Bunche played a very critical role in the mediation process. He served as an assistant to the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine and subsequently as the Principal Secretary of the UN Palestine Commission. He also served as chief aide to Swedish Diplomat Count Folke Bernadotte who had been appointed to mediate the conflict. After Bernadotte’s assassination in Jerusalem in 1948, Bunche became the UN’s chief mediator of the conflict.

Following a successful mediation in the conflict resulting in the 1949 Armistice Agreements between the disputing parties (Israel, Egypt, Lebanon and Syria), Bunche deservedly received a Nobel Peace Prize for his role in the mediation process, thus making him the first African American and black person to achieve such a feat. He subsequently played important mediation roles in Cyprus, Congo, Kashmir and Yemen. In 1968, he was appointed Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations.

This iconic UN mediator became the first black person to receive a Nobel Peace Prize

Ralph Bunche (right) in Congo (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo) in 1962 — Photo Credit: United Nations

Besides being a diplomat, Bunche was also a distinguished academician and a staunch civil rights activist. He taught at Howard University and also served as Chairman of its Department of Political Science from 1928 to 1950. A Harvard alumnus, he also served as a member of Harvard University’s Board of Overseers from 1960 to 1965 and as a member of the board of the Institute of International Education. He was also a trustee of Lincoln University, New Lincoln School and Oberlin College.

Bunche’s contributions to the Civil Rights Movement in the United States is also commendable. He took part in the March on Washington in 1963 where Martin Luther King delivered his famous “I have a dream speech” as well as the famous Selma to Montgomery, Alabama march in 1965.

Aside the Nobel Peace Prize, Bunche also has several accolades and honors to his name including the Presidential Medal of Freedom conferred on him by then US President John F. Kennedy, a road in Nairobi, Kenya named after him, a Spingarn Medal from The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1949 among others.

He passed away on December 9, 1971, aged 68.

This iconic UN mediator became the first black person to receive a Nobel Peace Prize

Ralph Bunche’s grave at Woodlawn Cemetery in The Bronx, New York City

Last Edited by:Nduta Waweru Updated: December 10, 2018


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