Dr. Ralph J. Bunche was a remarkable American whose legacy is becoming all too distant to our collective memory. During the mid-20th century, he had an illustrious career working to better the conditions of life for the oppressed in America and throughout the world. He was a distinguished scholar, activist and statesman, evidenced by a list of highlights of his achievements. In 1949, he received the Spingarn Medal presented by the NAACP, an award given annually to an African-American for noble achievement. Credited with many accomplishments in diplomacy and political science, he reached a pinnacle in his career in 1950 when he won the Nobel Peace Prize for negotiating the armistice between Israel and four separate Arab nations: Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. In the 1960s, Dr. Bunche received the Medal of Freedom from President Lyndon Baines Johnson, participated in Dr. Martin Luther King’s protest march on Washington, and marched alongside Dr. Martin Luther King in Selma, Alabama. Dr. Bunche dedicated his life and career to the achievement of the noble goals he believed in: a “peaceful and just world,” and a “fully democratic America.”
Though his career was marked with internationally recognized achievements, Dr. Bunche was an unpretentious man who did not seek accolades or desire to be cast into the limelight. His close friend, Sir Brian Urquhart, recalled that when Dr. Bunche was told he was to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, he wrote to the committee explaining that he would not be able to accept the award. In Bunche’s view, he did not work in the United Nations Secretariat to win personal honors, and he only accepted the award after he was convinced it would be beneficial to the United Nations. He sought recognition, not for himself, but for the injustice that exists in the world. Although Dr. Bunche did not seek praise, he is a man deserving of it.
The accomplishments of Dr. Bunche’s life and career as a scholar, activist and statesman are the result of a fluid integration throughout his life of intellectual development and practical determination. His triumphs in these various areas cannot be divided on a timeline into categorical periods of allegiance. He saw each as intertwined, and remained dedicated to each throughout his life. This essay highlights the major achievements in his remarkable career by focusing on three major categories, solely as an organizational tool for the reader: academics, international statesmanship, and racial equality activism.