Ralph J. Bunche (1904-1971) was the first African American to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. The 1950 prize honored his efforts as a United Nations mediator between the Arab States and Israel in 1949. Bunche enjoyed a long career in U.S. foreign affairs, with distinguished service to the United Nations from 1946 until 1970. He received the Medal of Freedom in 1963 from President Lyndon B. Johnson.

Born in Detroit, Bunche and his family lived in several cities before settling in Los Angeles, where he attended high school and college. After receiving a Ph.D. from Harvard University, he moved to Washington, where he founded Howard University's Department of Political Science in 1928 and served as its first chair. He was part of a group of social science scholar-activists that included economist Abram Harris and sociologist E. Franklin Frazier. As an activist he was an outspoken critic of racial and class inequality. In 1935, during a production of Porgy and Bess, he helped organize a protest against the white-owned National Theatre's policy of excluding African American audiences. The protest resulted in a short-lived change in the theater's policy.

During World War II he served as an Africa specialist in the State Department. After the war, he played a pivotal role in the development of the United Nations and the drafting of the UN charter. In 1967 he became undersecretary general of the United Nations.

Bunche commissioned architect Hilyard Robinson to plan and build his International style house. When the Bunches moved into the Brookland neighborhood in 1941, it was primarily white. His children could not attend the neighborhood school because it was only for white children. The Bunche family lived here until 1947. The house was placed on the DC Inventory of Historic Sites in 1975 and on the National Register of Historic Places in 1993.


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