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Black History Month: Detroit native Ralph Bunche was 1st African American to receive Nobel Peace Prize

Bunche received Prize in 1950

Portrait of Nobel Prize-winning political scientist and diplomat Ralph Bunche (1904 - 1971) stands smiling, with hands on hips, in the living room of the home where Dr. King spent the night in Montgomery, Alabama prior to the final day of the Selma to Montgomery march, 1965. From the Chicago Defender Collection.
Portrait of Nobel Prize-winning political scientist and diplomat Ralph Bunche (1904 - 1971) stands smiling, with hands on hips, in the living room of the home where Dr. King spent the night in Montgomery, Alabama prior to the final day of the Selma to Montgomery march, 1965. From the Chicago Defender Collection. (Photo by Robert Abbott Sengstacke/Getty Images)

DETROIT – The first African American to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, Ralph J. Bunche, was a Detroit native.

Bunche was born in Detroit in 1904. He moved with his family to Albuquerque, New Mexico when he was 10.

He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1950 for his contributions to helping mediation in Israel.

Bunche spent time working with the Department of State before helping the United Nations. He served as an adviser to the Department of State and to the military on Africa during World War II. He was also the acting chief of the Division of Dependent Area Affairs in the State Department.

In 1946, Bunche began leading the Department of Trusteeship of the United Nations. His role would include handling problems in nations that were not self-governing. This position led him to the work that would earn him the Prize.

Between 1947 and 1949, he worked as the assistant to the UN Special Committee on Palestine before he was the principal secretary of the UN Palestine Commission. Bunche was working to help as there were confrontations between Arabs and Jews in Palestine.

The Commission was carrying out partition that was approved by the UN, but in 1948, that plan was dropped while fighting between the Arabs and Jews intensified.

Bunche then served as the chief aide to Count Folke Bernadotte, who was assigned by the UN to be a mediator.

Bernadotte was assassinated four months later, moving Bunche into the role of acting UN mediator on Palestine.

He negotiated for months until he was able to get Israel and the Arab States to sign armistice agreements.

Bunche continued to work for the UN when his efforts with the Israeli and Palestinian conflicts was completed.

Back at home, Bunche was involved with the American Civil Rights Movement. He participated in the March on Washington, as well as the Selma to Montgomery March.

Bunche died in 1971.


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