Ralph Bunche: Breaking Barriers and Making History

Ralph Bunche was a man of many firsts. He was the first African American to earn a PhD in political science from Harvard, the first person of color to hold a high-level position within the United Nations, and the first person of color to be awarded a Nobel Peace Prize.


Photo courtesy of American Foreign Service Association 

Ralph Bunche was born in Detroit, Michigan in 1903 and grew up in a predominantly white neighborhood. He went on to earn a scholarship to the University of California, where he studied international relations. After completing his undergraduate degree, he went on to earn his MA and PhD from Harvard University. His research focused on the intersection of race and international relations, which was a relatively new field at the time.


Bunche was a prominent advocate for civil rights and later in life, he worked for the United Nations. He was appointed by the Secretary-General of the UN to mediate the conflict between neighboring countries, Palestine and Israel in 1947-1948. His negotiations culminated in a ceasefire agreement between the two countries, which earned him the Nobel Peace Prize in 1950. This was an incredible accomplishment, as he was the first person of color to receive this honor.


Although Bunche was widely celebrated and applauded for his efforts, it is important to understand that he faced criticism and pushback from those who were hesitant to accept a person of color in a high-level diplomatic role. Despite this opposition, he dedicated his entire life to peacebuilding and international relations, demonstrating that true leadership is about fighting for what you believe in and taking action despite hardships.