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Ralph J. Bunche Dies at 67

December 10, 1971
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

Dr. Ralph J. Bunche, UN Under-Secretary General for Special Political Affairs and a principle architect of the 1949 Middle East peace settlement, died this morning at the age of 67. Upon learning of his death, Israel’s Premier Golda Meir, who is in the US, cabled condolences to the late diplomat’s wife, Mrs. Ralph (Joan) Bunche.

Mrs. Meir said she was “shocked at the tragic death of your husband who has devoted his life to the cause of peace. There is hardly anybody outside of Israel who was so intimately connected with the State of Israel from its emergence and who has contributed so much in bringing to a close the first outbursts of Arab hostility against Israel. His wisdom, objectivity and ability are sadly needed in the troubled world of today. His passing is a great loss to all who are interested in peace. Please accept my participation in your great sorrow.”

Dr. Bunche, who had been in poor health and was scheduled to retire next year after 14 years as Under-Secretary General, won the 1950 Nobel Peace Prize for his mediation of the Rhodes agreement on Palestine in 1949. Those negotiations, which lasted from January to July, led to armistices between Israel and Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. Dr. Bunche was placed in charge of the negotiations after the assassination in 1948 of Count Folke Bernadotte of Sweden. He also organized and supervised the 3,000-man United Nations Emergency Force (UNEF) during the Suez Crisis of 1956-7.

Dr. Bunche, who was born in Detroit on Aug. 7, 1904, was the recipient of the Spingarn Medal (1949), the Four Freedoms Award (1951) and the Presidential Medal of Freedom (1963), in addition to the Nobel Prize and numerous additional awards.


American Jewish leaders reacted with sorrow today and recalled Dr. Bunche’s peace-keeping efforts. Rabbi Arthur J. Lelyveld, president of the American Jewish Congress, declared that “Ralph Bunche was a living symbol of man’s devotion to the struggle for peace among men and nations. Both in the United Nations’ service and in the quality of dignity, courage, and gentleness that characterized his personal life, he won the respect of all men of good will.”

Dr. William Wexler, chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, said: “The deep understanding, moral integrity and devotion to peace that Ralph Bunche represented in his life and work will be sorely missed in the forum of the United Nations and in every effort that seeks to build a life of justice and dignity for every member of the human family.”

Dr. Emanuel Neumann, chairman of the World Zionist Organization, American Section Executive, stated: “In the death of Ralph J. Bunche, the world has lost one of its most distinguished citizens. He made invaluable contributions to the cause of world peace. A friend of Israel and architect of the peace that ended the War of Independence in 1949, he earned the thanks of Israel and the American Jewish community. He will always be remembered with gratitude.”

Rabbi Israel Miller, president of the American Zionist Federation, said “The American Zionist movement mourns the passing of a great and accomplished statesman. Ralph Bunche was a man of patience, understanding and good will. It is for Israel and the Arab countries to now complete what he started and mutually to negotiate the peace and the boundaries longed for at the conclusion of his efforts.”

Philip E. Hoffman, president of the American Jewish Committee, recalled Dr. Bunche’s “monumental efforts to bring an end to the fighting that erupted during the earliest days of the State of Israel. Today when fighting again threatens that troubled area, we earnestly hope that these efforts of Ralph Bunche will be recalled, and that his dedication, skill and conscientiousness will serve as a model to others concerned with the cause of peace.” Seymour Graubard, national chairman of the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith, paid homage to Dr. Bunche for his “never ceasing quest for world peace, for interracial justice and for equality of all men.”


Israel’s Foreign Minister Abba Eban recalled Dr. Bunche’s role in pioneering UN peace-keeping efforts and “one of those whose voice aroused the conscience of mankind against racial discrimination in any place or in any form. He gave it not only his labor and devotion, but also the mark of a creative and original personality. Beyond all these things I knew and cherished him as a man and a friend.”

Continuing, Eban stated: “I knew and honored Ralph Bunche during all the years of Israel’s membership in the United Nations where he was not only the ornament but a massive pillar. In Israel, which occupied so much of his thought and work since 1947, his death will cast a particularly long shadow.”

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