Bunche: An American Odyssey opens with a series of fast-paced
newsreel clips. This introductory segment gives an overview
of the documentary's focus: Khrushchev addresses the UN General
Assembly; Joseph McCarthy searches for disloyal employees
at the State Department; Stokely Carmichael philosophizes
about his radical agenda; Bunche negotiates armistice agreements
between Israel, Egypt, Trans-Jordan, Lebanon and Syria; Bunche
wins the Nobel Prize and receives other accolades for his
achievements. This introductory montage sets the stage for
the fundamental issues and questions addressed in the film.
should history view Bunche as we look back on his life and
work from the 21st century?
Bunche's appreciation of "politics as the art of the possible"
weigh too heavily on his approach and lead him to fail in
achieving real justice for all people? Was he an honest broker
or a tool of the industrialized West?
the most honored and widely respected Black American of the
day, did Bunche fight as diligently as he should to advance
equality and justice for African Americans?
did Bunche's childhood and education shape his philosophy
the introduction, the film proceeds chronologically. Photographs,
commentary from family, colleages and historians, excerpts
from Bunche's writings, newspaper headlines and documentary
film footage tell the story of Bunche's rise from humble birth
in Detroit to world renown as Undersecretary-General of the
account of his early years and schooling focuses on Bunche's
family, especially his grandmother, Mrs. Lucy Taylor Johnson
-- called Nana. It shows how her ideas of black pride, belief
in education and hard work shaped her grandson's character,
his competitive spirit and his commitment to excellence. In
bold relief, the film portrays the racial prejudice of the times
and Bunche's refusal to become its victim. He wins a scholarship
to UCLA, graduates summa cum laude, goes to Harvard,
earns a Master degree in political science and graduates with
distinction in 1927.
is immediately offered a teaching position at Howard University,
the pioneer black institution of higher learning in the country.
He joins the faculty and is appointed chair of the political
science department, which he reorganizes and expands. He returns
to Harvard to pursue further study, conducts extensive field
researh in Europe and Africa and, in 1934, is awarded a Ph.D.
for his doctoral dissertation on colonialism. He returns to
Howard where he resumes teaching and writing. Bunche responds
to the growing racism and deterioting economic situation of
the 1930s by calling for equal civil and economic rights for
the American Negro. The theme of justice and equality will become
the driving force of his life's work. In the midst of the depression,
he and his friend, John P. Davis, form a new political organization
-- the National Negro Congress -- to advance the social, political
and economic status of the Black, and white, worker. Bunche's
association with this organization, which later became Communist-infiltrated,
led to the accusations that haunted him in the 1950's.
a brief interlude, the film turns to view rising Fascism in
Europe and the stranglehold in which the imperial powers held
the vast colonial world. This segment, in particular the invasion
of Ethiopia and the failure of the League of Nations to protect
it against Fascist aggression, provides the context for the
publication of Bunche's landmark book, A World View
of Race. The book examines the economic basis of imperialism
war engulfs Europe, Bunche is invited to join the Office of
Strategic Services -- an intelligence agency set up by President
Roosevelt in anticipation of America's entry into the war.
Bunche leaves the academic world and begins his public service
career which takes him to the State Department, to the San
Francisco Conference and, eventually, to the UN. He is appointed
head of the new Trusteeship Division, which is charged under
the Charter with overseeing the administration of all territories
placed under trusteeship and tracking thier progress towards
next segment turns to Palestine as as Britain lays the problem
of its mandate at the UN's doorstep. The film examines Bunche's
role as arbitrator and negotiator during this intensely critical
period in the Middle East crisis. His work earns him the Nobel
Prize in 1950.
film then returns to the McCarthy Era and the Cold War struggle
between East and West. The search for Communists in high places
leads to accusations against Bunche. Summoned to appear before
the International Employees Loyalty Board, Bunche is finally
cleared when his former friend, and former communist, John
P. Davis, testifies that Bunche never was a member of the
party. UN Secretary General, Dag Hammarskjöld, appoints
Bunche Assistant Secretary-General without portfolio, a new
position he creates and the highest one that can be held by
a citizen of any of the five major powers.
Suez Crisis of 1956 now takes center stage. Bunche plays a
major role in diffusing the crisis, which has brought the
world to the brink of a war between the great powers. He organizes,
and directs, the first international UN peacekeeping force.
The UN action successfully stabilizes the situation and the
invading forces withdraw from Egyptian territory. Then the
film treats the independence movement in Africa, as Bunche
becomes the UN's chief troubleshooter. Vintage footage documents
the celebration of Ghana's independence. Bunche is next seen
in the Congo where he has been sent to offer economic and
technical assistance to the newly independent nation.
footage recalls the turbulent transition to self-government
in the Congo, as ethnic and Cold War rivalry threatens to
split the country apart. Bunche finds himself in the middle
of a power struggle, working to negotiate a settlement and
keep the country from descending into chaos. He describes
this situation as the toughest spot he has ever been in.
next sequence looks at Bunche's work on behalf of civil rights
in the United States in the 1960s -- the March on Washington,
the Selma-to-Montgomery March and the passage of the 1965
Voting Rights Act.
film concludes with an evaluation by scholars of Bunche's
contributions to civil rights in the United States and human
rights around the world. His own words end the film:
real objective must always be the good life for all the
people. International machinery will mean something to
the common man throughout the world only when it is translated
into terms that he can understand: peace, bread, housing,
clothing, education, good health, and above all, the right
to walk with dignity on the world's great boulevards.
Home | Early Influences | Scholar-Activist | Drive to Decolonize | Mr. UN
The Peacemaker | Man & the Myth | Timeline | Educational Resources
Making the Movie | Site Credits