Ralph Bunche was a skillful diplomat who played a key role at the United Nations during its early years. His efforts on behalf of world peace won him the Nobel Prize in 1950.
Orphaned at age 11, Bunche was raised by his grandmother in Los Angeles. He graduated from the University of California at Los Angeles summa cum laude (with highest honors). In 1934, he became the first African-American to earn a Ph.D. in government and international relations from Harvard. After teaching, for several years, he worked in Africa for the U.S. during World War II. As a State Department officer in 1944, he helped to organize the United Nations.
In 1945, Bunche became the first black to head a division of the U.S. State Department.
Bunche began his 25-year career at the UN in 1946. Three years later, he negotiated cease-fire agreements between Israel and Arab countries that had invaded the newly formed nation. For this accomplishment, Bunche was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, becoming the first black to win that award.
After leading other UN peacekeeping missions, Bunche became the world body’s second-ranking officer, the under secretary-general, in 1967. Although his job focused on international affairs, Bunche was also committed to the struggle of American blacks. Thought seriously ill at the time, he joined the 1965 civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama to demand that African-Americans be allowed to vote.