Year-Long Bunche Centenary Begins (His Institute Reaches 30)

Scholar, civil rights pioneer, and diplomat Ralph Bunche’s distinguished career of national and international service advocating education, civil rights, and peace is well known. Most notable is the Nobel Peace Prize he was awarded in 1950 for his successful mediation in 1948-49 of the first war between Israel and its neighboring Arab states (the first Peace Prize to a person of color). Not so well known is Dr. Bunche’s more local public service, as a member of the City Univer-sity’s board of trustees for seven years, beginning in 1958.

Former CUNY trustee Ralph Bunche

That term—in addition to Bunche’s tireless efforts at the United Nations in numerous capacities, ultimately as Under-Secretary-General, no fewer than 69 honorary degrees, and lifetime of public service—helped to inspire the University to establish the Ralph Bunche Institute on the United Nations at the Graduate Center in 1973, two years after his death. (Its name was changed in 2001 to the Ralph Bunche Institute for International Studies, or RBIIS, as the Center’s mandate was enlarged to support and further strengthen international studies and solutions to global problems.)

Last August 7, the centennial of Bunche’s birth in Detroit in 1903, marked the beginning of a year-long international commemoration, in which the Bunche Institute, currently directed by Professor of Political Science Thomas G. Weiss, is playing a major part. A highlight will be
a centenary Secretariat hosted at the Graduate Center, and an exhibition on Bunche that opened August 7 at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Studies will move to the Graduate Center on December 10.

One of the Centenary’s three co-chairs is former Bunch Institute director, Professor Benjamin Rivlin.

Bunche, a summa cum laude and valedictorian at what is now U.C.L.A., was the first black man to earn a Ph.D. in government and international relations at Harvard. He helped found the National Negro Congress in 1936, was on an NAACP picket line the next year, and by 1944 was working in the State Department and advising the U.S. delegation to the San Francisco conference that drafted the U.N. charter. From 1946 until his retirement in 1965, Bunche’s energies were focused on his duties at the U.N.

For more information on the Centennial, visit
For more on the Bunche Institute, visit

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