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Bunche, Ralph J. (ca. 1903-1971)

RalphJohnson Bunche, American political scientist, renowned scholar, award winner,and diplomat, was one of the most prominent African Americans of his era.  Bunche was born on August 7, 1903 or 1904(there is some disagreement about the year of his birth) in Detroit, Michigan. His father Fred was a barberwho owned a racially segregated barbershopthat catered solely to white customers. His mother, whose maiden name was OliveAgnes Johnson, was an amateur musician.

Young Ralph spent his early years in Michigan. However, due to the relativelypoor physical constitution of his mother and grandmother’s uncle, Charlie Johnson, thefamily settled in Albuquerque, NewMexico when he was ten years old. The family believed the dry climate of theregion would be more conducive to his parents’ health. Yet both his mother anduncle died when Ralph turned twelve. His mother died of tuberculosis in 1917.His uncle committed suicide the same year. The circumstances surrounding hisfather are less fully known. The common narrative is that he left the family,remarried, and never returned.

Ralph and his two sisters were resettled in Los Angeles, California where they joined theirgrandmother who raised them in a South Central neighborhood that was then predominantlywhite. It was during his teenage years in Los Angeles where Bunche proved to bea brilliant student. He excelled in all of his high school courses andgraduated valedictorian of his high school class at Jefferson High School. He thenattended the University of Californiaat Los Angeles (UCLA) where he graduated summa cum laude in 1927.

Bunche continued his graduate studies at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts where in 1934 hebecame the first African American to earn a doctorate degree in PoliticalScience from an American university. His dissertation comparing French Rule inTogoland and Dahomey received the Toppan Prize for outstanding research. Whilehe was earning his doctorate degree, Bunche became a professor in the politicalscience department at Howard University in

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