RALPH BUNCHE: A Most Reluctant Hero by Jim Haskins

RALPH BUNCHE: A Most Reluctant Hero

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Ralph Bunche was a ""maintrack"" American who had, as Haskins points out, neither the desire nor the personality to become an activist black leader. In fact, Bunche was so guarded about his private life that this biography is largely limited to reviewing his public career -- especially his dedicated work as U.N. mediator of the Palestine question (which was distinguished by a perseverance that is at least stylistically similar to Kissinger's). Haskins also reminds us that Bunche worked on Gunnar Myrdal's famous study of race in America and, as the first black American to win a Ph.D. in political science, pioneered in the scholarly study of African culture and colonialism by American blacks. Bunche's intensely proud and ambitious grandmother, Nana, who encouraged the young Ralph to respond to discrimination as a challenge to ever greater determination (""never let anyone 'lowerate' you"") was certainly a determining influence in his character, but except for one case in which a Howard University colleague criticized his ""athleticism"" (or over-competitiveness) we know Bunche's mature personality only as it was reflected in the friendship and admiration of those he worked with. Haskins goes rather out of his way to apologize for Bunche's lack of militant leadership (a role he never desired and an anachronistic expectation); however he is answering the criticism that will no doubt be raised by today's readers particularly if they come to Bunche looking for a black hero specifically. And if Haskins neither probes beneath the surface composure nor tells much about the substance of the Palestine negotiations, at least he presents his subject with integrity and an admirable lack of invented drama.

Pub Date: June 1st, 1974
Page count: 160pp
Publisher: Hawthorn