Visit Your Local PBS Station PBS Home PBS Home Programs A-Z TV Schedules Watch Video Donate Shop PBS Search PBS


Ralph Bunche with Eleanor Roosevelt

Eleanor Roosevelt holding a poster of the Declaration of Human Rights


At the March on Washington, August 1963


Bunche's vision of international peace and human rights informed his views on civil rights.




His 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


By 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 heaven."

Home | Early Influences | Scholar-Activist | Drive to Decolonize | Mr. UN
The Peacemaker | Man & the Myth | Timeline | Educational Resources
Making the Movie | Site Credits