Monday, July 7, 2008

No. 159 - Ralph J. Bunche Home

Ralph J. Bunche Home

Ralph J. Bunche Home
1221 East 40th Place – map
Declared: 7/27/76

While not the home most associated with Dr Ralph J. Bunchea 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 J. Bunche Home

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.

Dr Ralph J. Bunche
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.

Ralph J. Bunche Home
Ralph J. Bunche Home

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.

Ralph J. Bunche Home


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


Anonymous said...

Thanks for a another great post! Just for the sake of completion (and because I'm a former Bruin) the Social Sciences building at UCLA is named after Bunche:

Floyd B. Bariscale said...

Excellent link. Thanks, Joan.

Pasadena Adjacent said...

My Grand Uncle was a professor of History at U.C.L.A. when the campus was located on Vermont. My grandmother eventually followed her brother and finished her schooling at U.C.L.A and would go on to teach Home Economics at Horace Mann middle school.

I wonder if Ralph J Bunche and my grandmother attended college at the same time. I'm looking into it.

Diallo said...

My grandmother was friends with the whole Bunche family.

The affluent, educated African American community back then was quite small and close.

Also, Floyd, I have a family member who moved literally next door to one of the historical homes you have showed on your site. Without saying which one, I was in awe that it was there and told everyone there how significant the house was. I love the site and now they all do too.

Floyd B. Bariscale said...

Thanks, Diallo, for spreading the word. I'm glad your relation now knows about the landmark nearby. I've met folks who live in these monuments - especially when old homes are converted into apartments - who have no idea they're living in HCMs.

Floyd B. Bariscale said...

Hi, Miss Havisham. I remember reading that, but I don't recall the actor's name. The fact I didn't mention here it leads me to believe the author didn't give it. Next time I'm off to the library, I'll double-check.

Unknown said...

This is a great piece not only in memory of Dr. Bunche but of the history of Los Angeles. History I of great interest to me so I appreciate your work Mr. Bariscale. I went to school at the Ralph J. Bunche Middle School in Compton in the early 60's. It was there I first became aware of this great man Dr. Bunche. Thank you again for posting the pictures and information. God bless you