Ralph J. Bunche Home
1221 East 40th Place – map
While not the home most associated with Dr Ralph J. Bunche – a nice one, designed by Hilyard R. Robinson, still stands in D.C., and then there’s the National Historic Landmark in Queens, N.Y. – it’s in this simple California cottage off South Central where the future Nobel Peace Prize winner lived for about a decade beginning in 1917.
Ralph Johnson Bunch was born in Detroit, Michigan, on August 7, 1903. His family moved from there to Cleveland to Knoxville to Toledo by the year 1909. When Ralph was ten, the Bunch Bunch packed up and relocated to Albuquerque. He lost his parents in 1917 – his mom to TB, his dad to desertion. It was after this when his grandmother, aunt, and uncle bundled up Ralph and his sister and headed to Los Angeles. They first rented a bungalow at 1219 Griffith Avenue, but had to leave when the owner realized the family was black (Ralph’s uncle, like his grandmother, was light-skinned, and had unintentionally fooled the racist). The family wound up moving to this home on what was then named 37th Street.
Ralph – his grandmother by this time had added an ‘e’ to his last name – enrolled at Thirtieth Street Intermediate School (now John Adams Junior High), and then, the following year, Jefferson High, just half a block away from the Bunche home. In 1922, he graduated from Jeff as the senior class valedictorian.
Bunche in 1927, swiped from the L.A. Public Library website.
While continuing to live at home, Bunche attended UCLA (then called the University of California Southern Branch, it was located on Vermont where City College is today), earning tuition money through a variety of jobs. At UCLA, Bunche played football and basketball, wrote for The Bruin, and co-founded a new debate society after he was refused admittance to the UCLA club (he was black, remember). Having majored in political science, Ralph graduated in 1927 summa cum laude, again as class valedictorian.
Well, once Bunche leaves L.A., his life story becomes a lot more boring: he receives his master of arts degree in political science from Harvard; organizes and chairs the first Political Science Department at Howard University; has three children with his wife, Ruth; is awarded the Julius Rosenwald Fellowship for African research; earns his Ph.D. in political science and international relations at Harvard (the first African American to receive a doctorate in poli-sci); writes a couple of books, including A World View of Race in 1936 and, with Gunnar Myrdal in 1944, The American Dilemma; joins the OSS, focusing on Africa; helps draft the U.N. Charter; serves on the U.S. delegation at first session of U.N. General Assembly in London; after the assassination of Count Bernadotte in 1948, becomes acting mediator in Palestine; negotiates an Israeli/Egyptian armistice; in 1950 becomes the first African-American to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize; becomes U.N. undersecretary to Dag Hammarskjold and then U Thant; and receives the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Sickly for much of his life, Dr Ralph J. Bunche died in New York on December 9, 1971. He’s buried in the Bronx.
As for the house, Bunche’s Aunt Nelle lived there until she died in 1975. After years of abandonment, the building was bought by the Dunbar Economic Development Corp. in 1996 with their intention of converting the cottage into a museum. A variety of funding issues stalled the project for years, but, with restoration completed (for which it won a Los Angeles Conservancy preservation award in 2006), the former Bunche home today is the Dr Ralph J. Bunche Peace & Heritage Center.
Urquhart, Brian Ralph Bunche: An American Life W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. 1993 New York, NY
Schraff, Anne E. Ralph Bunche: Winner of the Nobel Peace Prize Enslow Puclishers, Inc. 1999 Springfield, NJ
“Riordan Cuts Red Tape to Begin Restoration of Nobelist's Home” The Los Angeles Times; Mar 12, 1999, p. B4
Up next: Manzanar