Bunche: Civil and Human Rights
Instructor's Notes by Dr. Charles
Professor and Chair, Department of African American Studies, UC
is Bunche an important historical figure?
the status of race relations in the U.S. in 1950 when Bunche
wins the Nobel Peace Prize, Truman has begun the integration
of the Armed Services and Jackie Robinson has integrated baseball.
However, much of America remains segregated.
the status of international relations in 1950 as the "Cold
War" heats up and as Bunche's fame is used as a weapon
in the battle for the allegiance of one billion emerging colonial
H. Johnson states that Bunche is the first crossover in a field
other than entertainment. What does he mean? How is this term
used today to describe people like Tiger Woods and Colin Powell?
the issues of racial stereotyping and racial profiling. How
was Bunche stereotyped? Note that he won an athletic scholarship
to UCLA even though he was class valedictorian in high school
and that his high school principal did not view Ralph as a Negro.
the issue of positive racial identity. His grandmother refused
to pass (explain the concept of passing) and instilled a sense
of racial pride and achievement in her grandson.
does the narrator mean when he says Bunche was the "model
Discuss the issue of model minorities. What characteristics
make an individual or a group a "model?"
Can you think of examples of model "Negroes" today?
Does the term seem pejorative? Why?
did the "Cold War" contribute to domestic racial progress?
the U.S. used Bunches fame to praise American democracy,
the reality of widespread segregation was used to embarrass
the U.S. Pressure by the Soviet Union and newly emerging colonial
subjects influenced government actions like the Supreme Court's
was Bunche's intellectual contribution to civil rights?
As a political scientist, Bunche examined the failure of American
democracy to deliver voting rights and political power to African
Americans. He was a key critic of the early New Deal social programs
that neglected or hurt African Americans such as the Agricultural
Adjustment Act (AAA). He was also the principal Black social scientist
working on Gunnar Myrdal's classic An American Dilemma.
Bunche was critical of Black protest organizations, which he felt
were too elitist in their policies and too passive in their actions.
was Bunche's intellectual contribution to human rights?
in general, tend to focus only on civil and political rights.
Bunche saw these rights as part of a much broader conception
of human rights that include social, economic and cultural rights
as well. From his early commencement address at UCLA to his
very last public speeches, Bunche linked the domestic civil
rights struggle to the broader worldwide struggle for human
rights and dignity.
What contributions did Bunche make to these struggles as an activist?
Bunche was a co-founder of the National Negro Congress (NNC)
in 1935. Contrast the focus on labor coalitions and economic
rights with the NAACP's emphasis on civil rights.
Bunche was an early supporter of the Montgomery bus boycott
and Martin Luther King. Despite his declining health, Bunche
spoke just before King at the March on Washington and joined
King for the Selma to Montgomery march in 1965.
In Montgomery, Bunche responds to Governor Wallaces
critique of "outside agitators" by saying that no
American is an "outsider." Compare the doctrine
of states rights in the civil rights struggle to that of national
sovereignty in the human rights struggle.
In what ways does Bunche work to make sure that the United Nations
is more effective than its predecessor, the League of Nations?
his role in drafting key parts of the UN Charter. How does he
overcome the unwillingness of the U.S. government to support
crucial language in the Charter?
the League of Nations had supported Ethiopia against fascist
Italy in 1935, could World War II have been prevented? Compare
to current U.S. foreign policy in Eastern Europe vs. Africa.
What is the relationship between "peacekeeping" and
the relationship between "peace" and "justice."
Can or should the UN intervene to promote justice as well as
peace? Why did Bunche dictate that UN blue helmets must act
only in defense of themselves?
What were Bunche's views on the rights of women?
Discuss the impact of local women's groups such as the Iroquois
Friday Morning Civic and Social Club on race relations.
What does Bunche's daughter mean when she says he was a traditional
"paterfamilias? Discuss the gender views of leaders such
as Bunche, King, and Malcolm X.
Bunche have been as successful career-wise had he chosen to remain
at the U.S. State Department?
Discuss the opportunities opened up by the UN for international
Contrast with the very limited opportunities for Black diplomats
in the U.S.
Discuss the indignities even African ambassadors faced in the
U.S. in the fifties and sixties.
J. Bunche, The Political Status of the Negro in the Age of
FDR, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1973).
Bunche, A World View of Race, (Port Washington, NY: Kennikat
Press, 1968 (1936).
P. Henry, Ralph Bunche: Model Negro or American Other,
(NY: New York University Press, 1999).
P. Henry, (ed.), Ralph J. Bunche: Selected Speeches and Writings,
(Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1995).
L. Krenn, Black Diplomacy: African Americans and the State
Department 1945-1969, (Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 1999).
Gordon Lauren, Power and Prejudice: The Politics and Diplomacy
of Racial Discrimination, (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1996).
Rivlin, (ed.), Ralph Bunche: The Man and His Times, (NY:
Holmes & Meier, 1990).
Urquhart, Ralph Bunche: An American Odyssey, (NY: W.W.