RALPH BUNCHE REMEMBERED AS CHAMPION OF PEACE, TOWERING 20TH CENTURY FIGURE,
AS UN MARKS CENTENARY OF BIRTH WITH STAMP ISSUE AT HEADQUARTERS CEREMONY
Former Under-Secretary-General and Nobel Peace Prize Winner Ralph Bunche was remembered today at a Headquarters ceremony as a champion of peace, a man of blazing idealism about humanity’s problems and a towering figure in twentieth century history, as the United Nations issued a set of stamps in his honour, part of a year-long commemoration of the 100th anniversary of his birth.
Speaking at the ceremony, which was organized by the Ralph Bunche Centenary Commemoration Committee and the United Nations Postal Administration, Secretary-General Kofi Annan described Bunche as “one of the heroes of my lifetime –- but one who is too little remembered”. The stamps, he said, admirably portray Bunche’s dignity and humanity, yet, with all due respect to the artist, “no tiny, two-dimensional image could fully capture the rich complexity of this towering figure in twentieth century history”.
He recalled that Bunche was to all outward appearances a patient man, but inside he burned with a blazing urgency and idealism about the many problems facing humanity, particularly the oppressed and dispossessed. On receiving the 1950 Nobel Peace Prize, he gave voice to a keenly felt anxiety about the inability of human beings to live together peacefully. And in a few memorable words, he encapsulated the mission of the United Nations. The United Nations existed, Bunche said, “not merely to preserve the peace but also to make change –- even radical change -– possible without violent upheaval”.
The Secretary-General went on to say, “As we continue Bunche’s efforts to rouse the world from complacency and indifference, we should do as Bunche did, and ask what each one of us can do to build a safer, better world for all people. Such daily devotion to peace, coexistence and mutual respect would be the best way to celebrate the force of life, the champion of peace, the inspiration that was Ralph Bunche.” (For full text of message, see Press Release SG/SM/8814 issued today.)
From humble beginnings as a young black man in the United States, Ralph Bunche achieved many firsts in a racially hostile environment. Born on 7 August 1903 in Detroit, Michigan, he fashioned several path-breaking careers, in academia, as a civil rights leader and as a dedicated civil servant in both the United States Government and the United Nations. He was the first African-American, or person of colour of any origin, to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, honoured for his success as United Nations mediator in bringing about the 1949 Rhodes armistices between Israel and Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.
From 1946 until his death in 1971, Mr. Bunche served the cause of peace as an international civil servant. He had helped create the United Nations at San Francisco in 1945 and had a central role in the adoption of three forward-looking chapters of the United Nations Charter that dealt with post-war colonialism. For two decades, as Under-Secretary-General, he played a leading role in the conception and conduct of the United Nations peacekeeping function.
Former Under-Secretary-General for Special Political Affairs Brian Urquhart said at today’s ceremony that Bunche was remembered at the United Nations as the ultimate model of a constructive international civil servant. The yearlong commemoration was meant to show people around the world, especially young people, how relevant Bunche and his work were to the world today, and to remind them of a great leader, a great intellectual and a person of great heart.
Mr. Bunche was also an early student of Africa and the problems of race. His prize-winning dissertation on colonialism in Africa earned him a Ph.D. in government and international relations at Harvard University. He was a lifelong activist on race and civil rights issues. In 1936, he was a founder of the National Negro Congress. He was with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and other black leaders in the march on Washington, as well as in Dr. King’s march from Selma to Montgomery.
Charles B. Rangel, Congressman from the fifteenth district of New York, who was also part of the march from Selma to Montgomery, praised Bunche for having the courage to come forward and stand up to inequality and injustice, when it was not popular to do so. In light of such courage, he was surprised at the silence of people today and the lack of willingness to act while thousands died and suffered.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg proclaimed today Ralph Johnson Bunche Day in the city of New York, in recognition of the great American. Reading the proclamation at the ceremony was Marjorie Tiven, Commissioner, New York City Commission for the United Nations, Consular Corps and Protocol.
Also participating in the ceremony were Joan H. Bunche, daughter of Ralph Bunche; George F. Saddler, Chair of the Centenary Commemoration Committee, New York region; James B. Cunningham, Deputy Permanent Representative of the United States to the United Nations; Benjamin Rivlin, Co-Chair of the Centenary Commemoration Committee; Eduardo Blinder, United Nations Office of Central Support Services; and Thomas G. Weiss, Director, Ralph Bunche Institute for International Studies, the Graduate Center of the City University of New York.
The three charcoal portraits reproduced on the stamps issued today were designed by Leo Cherne (1912-1999), who created them as a gift to Mr. Bunche. The original charcoal drawings currently hang at the Ralph Bunche Institute of International Studies, at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York.
Since its creation in 1951, the United Nations Postal Administration (UNPA) has issued over 1,000 stamps. Because United Nations stamps reflect the work of the Organization, the stamps extend beyond the boundaries of philately to draw attention to significant world problems and to serve as a reminder of the commitment of the United Nations to its goals. Human rights, the environment, endangered species and peace are among the subjects the UNPA has promoted on its stamps.
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