The Way it Was – Ralph Bunche, 1952

A look at the childhood home of the Nobel Peace Prize and the Presidential Medal of Freedom winner
Ralph Bunche
Ralph Bunche childhood home photograph courtesy of The Detroit Historical Society (Detroit Free Press)

1952 A young boy who once lived in the unprepossessing dwelling on the far right matured into a man who would achieve vaulting accomplishments: a Nobel Peace Prize, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, a doctorate from Harvard, and the role of undersecretary-general of the United Nations. Ralph Bunche, born in Detroit in 1904 (some sources say 1903), was a player on the world stage who battled tirelessly for global concord and civil rights. His boyhood home on Macomb Street is pictured here with local children in 1952, long after Bunche had moved with his family, first to Ohio, then New Mexico, and finally to California.

While earning his Ph.D. at Harvard, Bunche also taught at Howard University. In 1950, he was the first African American to win the Nobel Peace Prize for his successful efforts to negotiate a ceasefire between Israelis and Arabs. Thirteen years later, President John F. Kennedy awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom. While continuing his work at the United Nations, Bunche, the grandson of a slave, also participated in the 1963 March on Washington and the 1965 Selma-to-Montgomery walk with Martin Luther King Jr. Bunche died of complications from diabetes in 1971. Although the memory of Bunche has dimmed somewhat, he is honored in the names of two local elementary schools, one in Detroit and the other in Ecorse.

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