Collection ID: Sc MG 290

Collection context


Bunche, Ralph J. (Ralph Johnson), 1904-1971 and Carnegie Corporation of New York
Personal papers, family and general correspondence, writings, field notes and research materials, working papers, office files and printed matter documenting Ralph Bunche's personal life and professional career, from his enrollment at the University of California to his retirement in 1971.
Preferred citation:

Ralph Bunche papers, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, The New York Public Library


Scope and Content:

The Ralph Bunche Papers document Bunche's personal life and professional career, from his enrollment at the University of California to his retirement in 1971. They have been divided into the following series: FAMILY PAPERS, comprising personal and biographical materials on Ralph and Ruth Bunche; CORRESPONDENCE, both family and general; ADDRESSES, ARTICLES AND ESSAYS; the HOWARD UNIVERSITY files, comprising administrative and academic materials; the SOUTH AFRICA RESEARCH TRIP in 1937; writings and research materials for the CARNEGIE-MYRDAL STUDY; working papers, mimeographed reports and printed matter relating to the United Nations' TRUSTEESHIP COUNCIL; AWARDS, MEMBERSHIPS AND TRIBUTES; SCRAPBOOKS; PRINTED MATTER AND CLIPPINGS.

Biographical / Historical:

Ralph Johnson Bunche began his career as an educator and a political scientist, and later joined the United Nations, serving for the last twenty years of his life as a special assistant to the General Secretary of that world body.

Born in 1904 of a working class family in Detroit, Michigan, Bunche went to live with his maternal grandmother in Los Angeles, California, after the death of his mother in 1917. He graduated from Jefferson High School in 1921, the University of California at Los Angeles in 1927 and the Harvard Graduate School in 1928. In 1929 he was awarded the Ozias Goodwin Memorial Fellowship at Harvard. His doctoral dissertation “French Administration in Togoland and Dahomey” received the Toppan Prize in 1934. Bunche conducted post-doctoral work in anthropology and colonial policy at Northwestern University in 1936, the London School of Economics in 1937 and the University of Capetown, South Africa, in 1938. He was a member of Phi Beta Kappa.

Bunche met Ruth Harris in Washington, D.C. at the start of his career at Howard University in 1928. They married in 1930. Born in Montgomery, Ala. in 1906 and the youngest of ten children, she graduated from Alabama State Normal and the Minor Normal School in Washington, D.C. where she worked as a teacher in the city's public school. Her father, Charles Harris, was the chief mailing clerk and a prominent civic leader in Montgomery. The Bunche couple had three children: Joan, Jane and Ralph, Jr.

Ralph Bunche joined the staff of Howard University in 1928, first as a lecturer and later as the chairman of the Department of Political Science. While at Howard, he organized a series of conferences on the problems of African-American communities in the United States. He joined various committees protesting discrimination by department stores and theaters, and organized his students to join picket lines in Washington, D.C. In 1932, Bunche traveled to West and North Africa on a Rosenwald Fellowship to survey French colonial administration. His pamphlet “A World View of Peace” was published in 1936. The same year, he received a two year Social Science Research Council Fellowship for field and research work in Africa and Europe.

Bunche took a leave of absence from Howard University in 1938 and joined the staff of the Carnegie Corporation in conducting and organizing a comprehensive survey of the social, political and economic status of blacks in the United States. Entitled “The Negro in America” and also known as the “Carnegie-Myrdal Study,” the survey was directed by the Swedish sociologist Gunnar Myrdal, and was based on the field work and the extensive research memoranda prepared by a staff of scholars and collaborators. In addition to coordinating various administrative aspects of the project, Bunche conducted several field trips in the South in 1939 and was the author of four sizable research memoranda: “A Brief and Tentative Analysis of Negro Leadership,” “Conceptions and Ideologies of the Negro Problem,” “The Political Status of the Negro” and “The Programs, Ideologies, Tactics and Achievements of Negro Betterment and Interracial Organizations.” These works are quoted extensively in Myrdal's American Dilemma(Harper & Brothers, 1944).

After the entrance of the United States in the Second World War, Bunche accepted a temporary assignment at the State Department, working first as a Senior Research Analyst in the Office of Strategic Services and, in 1944, as an area specialist for Africa and dependent territories. He became a member of the U.S. delegation at the founding of the United Nations in 1945, serving consecutively as Acting Chief of the Division of Dependent Area Affairs, Commissioner of the Anglo-American Caribbean Commission and, in 1946, as Director of the Division of Trusteeship.

Bunche joined the Permanent Secretariat of the United Nations in 1948 with the title of Principal Director of the Trusteeship Council. Known also as Committee Four of the General Assembly, the Council supervised the administration of colonial territories formerly belonging to Germany. These territories included French and British Togoland, the French and British Cameroons, the Belgian Congo, Ruanda-Urundi, New Guinea and Western Samoa. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his mediation of the Armistice Agreement between Israel and the Arab states in 1948, and was also credited for his role in organizing the U.N. Green Berets. He also played a major role in the day to day work of the organization, and enjoyed a wide reputation for his integrity, his commitment to world peace and his gift as a negotiator and administrator. Gravely ill toward the end of his life, Ralph Bunche retired from the United Nations in 1971, the year of his death.

Ralph Bunche enjoyed wide prominence and respect both as a scholar and statesman. A political moderate, he believed in petitioning government for justice but did not hesitate to march in protest when all else failed. During the 1960s, however, he came under attack for his apparent lack of support and identification with the politics of protest and direct action advocated by the civil rights movement of that era. He was also criticized for his role in the Congo after the failure of the U.N. peacekeeping force in preventing the overthrow and the assassination of Patrice Lumumba. Bunche is honored today, nonetheless, as an outstanding world leader and as a role model in the African American community.

Acquisition information:

Gift of the Bunche Family, 1990.

SCM 90-1

SCM 90-99

Processing information:

Processed by Andre Elizee; Machine-readable finding aid created by Apex Data Services; revised by Terry Catapano.


I. Family papers; II. Correspondence; III. Writings; IV. Howard University; V. South Africa research trip; VI. Carnegie-Myrdal Study; VII. United Nations Trusteeship Council; VIII. Awards, membership and tributes; IX. Scrapbooks; X. Printed matter

Indexed Terms

African American college teachers
African American leadership
African American teachers
African American universities and colleges
African Americans -- Civil rights
African Americans -- Economic conditions
African Americans -- Legal status, laws, etc
African Americans -- Segregation -- Southern States
African Americans -- Social conditions
African Americans -- Study and teaching
Arab-Israeli conflict
Black author
Colonies -- Africa
Discrimination -- United States
International trusteeships
Jewish-Arab relations -- History -- 1917-1948
Mandates -- Cameroon
Mandates -- Palestine
Mediation, International
Nobel Prizes
Pacific settlement of international disputes
Political science -- Study and teaching
Political scientists in government
Spingarn Medal
Universities and colleges, Black
Voting -- United States
Carnegie Corporation of New York
Harvard College (1780- ). Class of 1928
Harvard University
Howard University
Howard University. Dept. of Political Science
International African Service Bureau
National Association for the Advancement of Colored People
Pan African Federation Organization
United Nations
United Nations Operation in the Congo
United Nations. General Assembly. Special Committee on Palestine
United Nations. Special Unit on Palestinian Rights
United Nations. Trusteeship Council
Bunch family
Azikiwe, Nnamdi, 1904-1996
Bernadotte, Folke, 1895-1948
Boas, Franz, 1858-1942
Bostic, Franklin
Bunche, Joan
Bunche, Olive Johnson
Bunche, Ralph J. (Ralph Johnson), 1904-1971
Bunche, Ruth Harris
Cayton, Horace
Davis, E. P
Dorsey, Emmett
Filmer, Robert, Sir, d. 1653
Herskovits, Melville J. (Melville Jean), 1895-1963
Jackson, James
Jackson, Whilhelmina
Johnson, Charles Spurgeon, 1893-1956
Johnson, Ethel
Johnson, Guion Griffis, 1900-1989
Johnson, Guy Benton, 1901-1991
Johnson, Nellie Millie
Jones, Butler A
Keppel, Frederick P. (Frederick Paul), 1875-1943
Locke, Alain LeRoy, 1886-1954
Makonnen, T. R
Myrdal, Alva, 1902-1986
Myrdal, Gunnar, 1898-1987
Norgren, Paul H. (Paul Herbert)
Padmore, George, 1902-1959
Pierce, Jane Bunche
Robinson, Grace Bunche
Sterner, Richard Mauritz Edvard, 1901-
Stoney, George
Stouffer, Samuel A., 1900-1960
Thant, U, 1909-1974
Thompson, Charles H
Urquhart, Brian
White, Walter Francis, 1893-1955
Wilkerson, Doxey Alphonso, 1905-1993
Williams, Eric Eustace, 1911-1981
Congo (Democratic Republic) -- History -- Civil War, 1960-1965
France -- Colonies -- Administration
Israel -- Politics and government
Palestine -- History -- Partition, 1947
Palestine -- Politics and government -- 1917-1948
South Africa -- Economic conditions -- 1918-1961
South Africa -- Politics and government -- 1909-1948
South Africa -- Race relations
South Africa -- Social conditions
Southern States -- Race relations
United States -- Ethnic relations
United States -- Race relations



Ralph Bunche papers, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, The New York Public Library

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