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The genius of place: An L.A. landmark and the Nobel Prize

August 23, 2008 |  7:15 am


A blogger who travels under the pseudonym Floyd B. Bariscale — is chronicling every historic-cultural monument in the city. His descriptions are lively and photos are lovely. He started at #1; Jacket Copy checked in on #126, the Shakespeare Bridge.

Today we celebrate #159: the Ralph J. Bunche house. The young Bunche lived in this house in South L.A. from 1917 to 1927 with his grandparents, who took him in after his mother died (his father had disappeared years before). Bunche excelled in high school then lived at home and worked while attending UCLA, where he was valedictorian. Then he moved east, becoming the first African American to earn a doctorate in political science from Harvard. Bariscale telescopes his successes:

[Bunche] 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 the 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...

Read what the Nobel Committee wrote about Bunche after the jump.

— Carolyn Kellogg

Ralph Bunche's enduring fame arises from his service to the U. S. government and to the UN. An adviser to the Department of State and to the military on Africa and colonial areas of strategic military importance during World War II, Bunche moved from his first position as an analyst in the Office of Strategic Services to the desk of acting chief of the Division of Dependent Area Affairs in the State Department. He also discharged various responsibilities in connection with international conferences of the Institute of Pacific Relations, the UN, the International Labor Organization, and the Anglo-American Caribbean Commission.

In 1946, UN Secretary-General Trygve Lie "borrowed" Bunche from the State Department and placed him in charge of the Department of Trusteeship of the UN to handle problems of the world's peoples who had not yet attained self-government. He has been associated with the UN ever since.

Bunche's family had started out in a bungalow further north, but once the landlord realized they were black, they'd been forced to move. Seems like this house -- and Jefferson High, where he was valedictorian, too -- served him well.

Now the house is more than just a cultural landmark; it's a museum and home of the The Dr. Ralph J. Bunche Peace and Heritage Center, which is in the process of collecting oral histories of the neighborhood.

Carolyn Kellogg

photo by Floyd R. Bariscale