Bunche with Eleanor Roosevelt
Roosevelt holding a poster of the Declaration
of Human Rights
the March on Washington, August 1963
vision of international peace and human rights informed his views
on civil rights.
early involvement in civil rights is often overlooked.
His involvement in human rights is not fully known.
"When I was responsible for the US delegation
to pilot the human rights covenant and the human rights treaties through
the [United Nations] General Assembly sessions. I worked very closely
with Ralph Bunche. He was extremely concerned that the US and other
large powers give the human rights provisions of the covenant the
respect that they deserved. This was something he devoted a great
deal of attention to. He solicited the help of Mrs. Roosevelt, not
that he had to work very hard at this because Mrs. Roosevelt was very
much interested in the same things. Between Mrs. Roosevelt and Ralph
Bunche, those of us who were on the delegation working on these matters,
felt that we had the two strongest international forces - human forces
- in the world working in favor of it. I don't think we would have
had a human rights treaty or a covenant on human rights had it not
been for that wonderful team of Ralph Bunche and Mrs. Roosevelt."
Interview with Ernest Gross, Former US Ambassador to the United Nations
the early 1960's, activists like Stokely Carmichael and nationalists
like Malcolm X agreed on one thing: that Ralph Bunche was irrelevant
to the African American struggle. Carmichael's "You can't have Bunche
for lunch," and Malcolm X's statement that Ralph Bunche was a "black
man who didn't know his history" were quoted by the militants as evidence
that Bunche was more concerned with solving problems in other parts
of the world than in dealing with problems on his own doorstep.
By the mid 1960's, as African American demands for equal rights were
met with resistance and terror by white America and riots erupted
in major cities across the country, Bunche grew more and more disillusioned
with the rate of progress and appalled at the violent turn of events.
However, he continued to advocate full integration and decried the
concept of black-separatism:
"I am a Negro, I am also an American. This is
my country. I own a share in it, I have a vested interest in it. My
ancestors helped create it, to build it, to make it strong and great,
and rich. All of this belongs to me as much as belongs to any American
with a white skin. What is mine I intend to have and to hold, to fight,
if necessary, to uphold it. I will not give up my legacy in this society
willingly. I will not run away from it by pursuing an escapist fantasy
of an all-black road to an all-black society - the illusion of a black