Ralph Johnson Bunche
(August 7, 1904-1971) was born in Detroit, Michigan. His father, Fred Bunche, was a barber in a shop having a clientele of whites only; his mother, Olive (Johnson) Bunche, was an amateur musician; his grandmother, «Nana» Johnson, who lived with the family, had been born into slavery. When Bunche was ten years old, the family moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico, in the hope that the poor health of his parents would improve in the dry climate. Both, however, died two years later. His grandmother, an indomitable woman who appeared Caucasian «on the outside» but was «all black fervor inside»1
, took Ralph and his two sisters to live in Los Angeles. Here Ralph contributed to the family’s hard pressed finances by selling newspapers, serving as house boy for a movie actor, working for a carpet-laying firm, and doing what odd jobs he could find. From June of 1947 to August of 1949, Bunche worked on the most important assignment of his career – the confrontation between Arabs and Jews in Palestine. He was first appointed as assistant to the UN Special Committee on Palestine, then as principal secretary of the UN Palestine Commission, which was charged with carrying out the partition approved by the UN General Assembly. In early 1948 when this plan was dropped and fighting between Arabs and Israelis became especially severe, the UN appointed Count Folke Bernadotte as mediator and Ralph Bunche as his chief aide. Four months later, on September 17, 1948, Count Bernadotte was assassinated, and Bunche was named acting UN mediator on Palestine. After eleven months of virtually ceaseless negotiating, Bunche obtained signatures on armistice agreements between Israel and the Arab States.
Bunche returned home to a hero’s welcome. New York gave him a «ticker tape» parade up Broadway; Los Angeles declared a «Ralph Bunche Day ». He was besieged with requests to lecture, was awarded the Spingarn Prize by the NAACP in 1949, was given over thirty honorary degrees in the next three years, and the Nobel Peace Prize for 1950.