||BY MEG SULLIVAN
It was another era of instability when the prospects for peace in the Middle East looked even bleaker than they do today. Only four years old, the United Nations had already seen its U.N. mediator tragically assassinated on the job.
Yet one man, the grandson of a former slave, dared to hope in 1949 for a truce between the new state of Israel and its four Arab neighbors. The success of UCLA alumnus Ralph J. Bunche not only gave the Middle East its first respite from war since the founding of the Israeli State, but provided a much needed validation for the U.N., whose charter he had helped write in 1945.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the presentation of the Nobel Peace Prize to Bunche. On Dec. 10, 1950, the 1927 graduate received the coveted award for negotiating the Arab-Israeli armistice agreement. This same award would eventually go to Martin Luther King, Jr., Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela, but 1950 marked the first time that Sweden so honored a black person. Bunche, who went on to become a civil-rights activist, would be given the Presidential Medal of Freedom as well.
Hailed by the Los Angeles Times four years after his 1971 death, at age 67, as one of the greatest men Los Angeles has ever produced, Bunche had somehow learned to hope despite a childhood that seemed to keep it out of his reach.
Orphaned at 12, Bunche lost his hearing in one ear due to a festering infection. Later, a sports injury left him with a lifelong blood clot in one leg. But his emergence as a student leader at the University of California, Southern Branch, located on Vermont Avenue, gave him all the encouragement he needed to succeed. According to his personal papers, housed in the Charles E. Young Research Library, he excelled as a debater, was a Daily Bruin columnist, reigned as a star basketball player and ultimately graduated a valedictorian. When Bunche was accepted on scholarship to Harvard for graduate studies, Southern Californians formed the Ralph Bunche Scholarship Fund, which raised $1,000 toward his living expenses.
In those college years of maturing, I came to know broader perspectives and horizons, the scholar, diplomat and undersecretary of the United Nations said in his last speech on campus, at the dedication of Bunche Hall in 1969. Attitudes of confidence in myself and in the future and of hope, were engendered. Hopefulness has been a part of my make-up ever since.
Today, his name still gives hope to deserving students. Alumni resumed fund-raising for the Ralph Bunche Scholarship Fund in 1972. Now UCLAs second- largest scholarship pool for freshmen, it last year paid out $56,760 to 53 students from historically underrepresented groups.
UCLA recently wrapped up raising funds for the Ralph Bunche Chair in International Studies and plans soon to launch a nationwide search for a distinguished scholar to fill the position.
Itll be great to have a scholar pursuing international research in the Bunche name, said Peter Taylor, Bunches nephew, former president of the UCLA Alumni Association and former University of California regent. He was a great UCLA fan.
To mark the anniversary of the Nobel Peace Prize, the Center for African American Studies is sponsoring a Jan. 29 screening of Ralph Bunche: An American Odyssey, a new documentary that will air on Feb. 2 on PBS. Set for 7 p.m. at a location that has not yet been determined, the event will be free and open to the public. A question-and-answer session with producer and director William Greaves will follow the screening.