Ralph Bunche Becomes First African American to Win Nobel Peace Prize

In 1950 the Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded the Nobel Peace Prize to the first non-white person, the African-American and United Nations (UN) official Ralph Bunche.

He received the Peace Prize for his efforts as mediator between Arabs and Jews in the Israeli-Arab war in 1948-1949. These efforts resulted in armistice agreements between the new state of Israel and four of its Arab neighbours: Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.

Two members of the Norwegian parliament nominated Ralph Bunche for the Nobel Peace Prize. Both had connections to the newly founded United Nations. One was Norway's first UN ambassador, and the other was a member of the Norwegian UN delegation. The nomination stated: "Although it can not be said to be Dr. Bunche's merit, but the development process itself that made the parties end the hostilities, there can be no doubt that it is Dr. Bunche's merit that the challenging negotiations over a ceasefire were brought to a positive result in a relatively short time".

The nominators had several motives. Awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to Bunche "would thereby not only honour him personally, but express trust and faith in the ability of the United Nations to solve international disputes by way of mediation between the parties". Furthermore, the nominators could not "neglect to mention that giving the Nobel Peace Prize to a member of the coloured race is a boost to peace in itself". Thus the Peace Prize was meant to strengthen the UN and to serve as an initiative against racism as well as to honour Ralph Bunche.

The Nobel Peace Prize is an international award given yearly since 1901 for achievements in peace. The prize, which includes about $1.3 million, a gold medal, and a diploma, is presented on December 10, the anniversary of the death of Alfred Nobel, its founder. Dr. Ralph J. Bunche was the first African American to win the Nobel Peace Prize, in 1950. Fourteen years later, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was the second, the youngest person thus far to receive the Peace Prize. As Peace Laureates, they are on a list of organizations and people that includes Theodore Roosevelt, 1906; Woodrow Wilson, 1910; Mother Teresa, 1979; Desmond Tutu, 1987; Nelson Mandela, 1993; and Jimmie Carter, 2002. Certainly the life of Dr. Bunche demonstrates that no African American of the 20th century, however prominent, escaped the racial forces shaping the United States, forces that led to the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s.