Barack Obama is the third US black to win the Nobel Peace Prize. Ralph Bunche was the first African American to do so. His NY home is a national landmark.
American Ralph Bunche (1904-1971) was the first man of color, from any nation, to win the Nobel Peace Prize. A man who broke many color barriers as he sought to intervene in some of the most difficult, strife-ridden international conflicts of his day, Bunche was also the first African American to win the Nobel Peace Prize.
When he was honored with the Nobel Peace Prize in 1950, Ralph Bunche was one of the nation’s most prominent diplomats. Like Barack Obama, who recently made headlines as an African American winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, Bunche was a deeply thoughtful man with an early background of robust academic achievement. He was one of a rare breed: one of the few black winners of the Nobel Peace Prize.
Ralph Bunche House: A Landmark in Queens, NY
Ralph Bunche House, a National Historical Landmark commemorating this African-American U.N. diplomat, is located in Kew Gardens, Queens.
It is a private residence and not open to the public, but one can walk by it at 115-24 Grosvenor Rd.
This 1927 Tudor-style residence was home to Nobel Peace Prize winner Dr. Ralph Bunche for more than 30 years.
Background on Ralph Bunche
The Detroit-born son of a barber, Bunche sold newspapers as a child, worked as a houseboy for a Los Angeles movie star and worked for a carpet installer. He was recognized early on for his brilliance, winning a scholarship to Harvard University, which was supplemented by a $1,000 fund raised by the African American community in his home town of Los Angeles. He completed a doctorate at Harvard several years later with a focus on social science and anthropology in Africa.
A brilliant academic and diplomat, and lifelong activist in civil rights, Bunche was instrumental in negotiations in 1948 between the newly-formed Israel and hostile neighboring Arab states. He subsequently spent a long career in the United Nations, culminating in 15 years as Undersecretary-General, the highest post ever held by an American.
Quotable Quotes about Ralph Bunche
In a speech announcing Bunche as winner of the 1950 Nobel Peace Prize, Gunnar Jahn, Chairman of the Nobel Committee, quotes Bunche’s own writings. Describing having suffered “many disillusioning experiences,” Bunche wrote,
“Like every Negro in America, I’ve been buffeted about a great deal. Inevitably, I’ve become allergic to prejudice. On the other hand, from my earliest years I was taught the virtues of tolerance; militancy in fighting for rights – but not bitterness.
Bunche goes on to say that in becoming a social scientist he developed a professional demeanor of “coolness of temper, an attitude of objectivity when dealing with human sensitivities and irrationalities” that, he said, was “invaluable.”
In awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to America’s first African American winner, the chairman of the Nobel Committee said, “Ralph Bunche’s enduring fame arises from his service to the U. S. government and to the UN.”
Bunche’s own moving acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize was entitled Some Reflections on Peace in Our Time.
In subsequent years, U.N. Secretary General U Thant described Bunche thus, “An international institution in his own right, transcending both nationality and race in a way that is achieved by very few.”
About Ralph Bunche House
Today, Ralph Bunche House is a private residence and not open to the public. Still, it is interesting to walk through these streets, and imagine the life of this high-powered international diplomat.
Kew Gardens, Queens, in the general vicinity of Forest Hills, Forest Park and Richmond Hill, is a residential and commercial area arrayed along the 12-lane Queens Boulevard. It is an area that has long been racially integrated and tended over the years to be a socially open-minded community.
When the United Nations was begun, it convened in temporary headquarters in Queens, while the current building in Manhattan was under construction. At that time, many people associated with the UN lived in Queens.
Visitors might stroll four or five blocks down the main shopping street in Kew Gardens, from Austin to Cuthbert along Lefferts Blvd. past Russian delis, hair salons, kosher bakeries, and a gourmet sandwich shop. On the side streets there are faux Tudor-style homes in quiet neighborhoods.
How to get there: E & F to Union Turnpike/Kew Gardens. Or by Long Island Railroad, get off at Austin St. and Lefferts Blvd.