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Studies center to be renamed after UCLA alum Ralph Bunche

By Jennifer Riley

Oct. 8, 2003 9:00 p.m.

Speaking at UCLA’s 1950 commencement ceremony, Ralph J.
Bunche told the crowd, “I am a Bruin. I have always been
proud of that distinction.”

Today, the African American Studies Center is being renamed
after Ralph J. Bunche in honor of the 100th anniversary of the
distinguished alum’s birth, according to center director
Darnell Hunt.

“We have already named a building named after him and a
scholarship. Why something else? Well, Bunche perfectly embodies
what the center is all about,” Hunt said.

He said Bunche was a civil rights advocate, a highly respected
scholar and a Nobel Peace Prize winner.

“With all of his contributions to society, he is generally
regarded as one of the brightest minds in politics for his time, as
well as the most well-known African American in the U.S. during the
’50s,” he added.

Bunche was born in Detroit in 1903 and moved to Los Angeles with
his family at the age of 14. Graduating from Thomas Jefferson High
School as valedictorian of his class, Bunch did not plan to
continue his education.

“I had no burning desire to go to college,” said
Bunche at the dedication of Bunche Hall on May 23, 1969.

“Actually, I came to the Vermont Avenue campus that
opening day in fall of 1923 only because of the insistence of a
very wise and determined maternal grandmother, for whom I had the
greatest love and respect,” he said.

When Bunche did begin his education at UCLA, the school was
located on Vermont Avenue and was called the Southern Branch of the
University of California, Hunt said.

Bunch excelled academically in college and was very involved in
the campus community, Hunt added.

He was involved in sports, wrote for the Daily Bruin, and was at
the top of his class. Bunche was also sports editor of the yearbook
and graduated Cum Laude in 1927 as valedictorian.

“UCLA is where it all began for me, where in a sense I
began,” Bunche said at the Bunche Hall dedication.
“College for me was the genesis and the catalyst.”

Hunt said “Bunche’s period at UCLA was formative in
shaping the person he became; it was particularly instrumental in
determining how he thought about race and race
relations.”

After graduating from UCLA, he continued his education at
Harvard University, where he earned a Ph.D. in philosophy.

Bunche then performed graduate work at the London School of
Economics and spent time at the University of Capetown in South
Africa.

He taught political science at Howard University, working with
Swedish sociologist Gunnar Myrdal on an in-depth study of race
relations.

What people don’t seem to be aware of, according to Hunt,
is how much Bunche contributed to the development of race
relations.

History professor Edward Alpers said Bunche dealt personally and
professionally with racial discrimination.

“The journals he kept during his travels to South Africa
document his experiences from the perspective of not only a
civilian but also as a member of the United Nations,” Alpers
said.

Bunche joined the United Nations in 1946 and worked on
peacekeeping missions around the world; in 1949 he was given the
Edward A. Dickson Achievement Award as alumnus of the year.

When U.N. mediator Count Folke Bernadotte was assassinated in
Jerusalem during his peace negotiations between Israel and Arab
nations, Bunche took over negotiating the armistice agreements.

For his contribution to the peace negotiations, Bunche was
awarded the Nobel Peace Prize on Dec. 10, 1950.

At his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, Bunche said,
“May there be, in our time, at long last, a world at peace in
which we, the people, may for once begin to make full use of the
great good that is in us.”

Increasing his involvement in the United Nations, Bunche took on
the role of undersecretary general in 1955, where he worked until
illness forced him to retire in 1971.

In 1969, the North Campus social science building was named in
Bunche’s honor.

Today, the African American Studies Center reaffirms
UCLA’s respect for Bunche’s contributions to the school
and the world, Hunt explained.

“He perfectly embodies all of the elements that have
defined our work at the center for the past 35 years, as well as
the ideas in race relations that will inspire this work in the
future,” Hunt added.

Though the AASC has been calling itself the Bunche Center since
January, Hunt chose today to officialize the renaming of the
organization.

He said many of the studies in race relations conducted by
Bunche serve as a prototypes for those of the center.

Hunt said other commemorative events are being organized
throughout the country “to honor this great historical figure
on such a special day.”

He added that other schools like Harvard and Howard Universities
are also recognizing Bunche’s importance by holding events in
his memory.

At the renaming ceremony, Bunche’s daughter Joan Bunche
will speak in honor of her father.

Chancellor Albert Carnesale is also scheduled to speak, and
artist LeRoy Neiman will unveil a portrait of Bunche he has created
for the occasion.

The event marks a year of commemorative programs that will honor
Bunche’s centenary with programs and lessons that explore his
legacy.

The renaming ceremony will be held today from 4 to 6 p.m. in
Dickson Plaza.

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