Activist, international statesman, reluctant black leader, scholar, icon, father and husband, Ralph Bunche is one of the most complicated and fascinating figures in the history of twentieth- century America. Bunche played a central role in shaping international relations from the 1940s through the 1960s, first as chief of the Africa section of the Office of Strategic Services and then as part of the State Department group working to establish the United Nations. After moving to the U.N. as Director of Trusteeship, he became the first black Nobel Laureate in 1950 and was subsequently named Undersecretary of the U.N. For nearly a decade, he was the most celebrated contemporary African American both domestically and abroad. Today he is virtually forgotten. Charles Henry's penetrating biography counters this historical tragedy, recapturing the essence of Bunche's service to America and the world. Moreover, Henry ably demonstrates how Bunche's rise and fall as a public symbol tells us as much about America as it does about Bunche. His iconic status, like that of other prominent, mainstream black figures like Colin Powell, required a constant struggle over the relative importance of his racial identity and his national identity. Henry's biography shines as both the recovered story of a classic American, and as a case study in the racial politics of public service.
Charles Henry is Professor of African American Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. He is the author/editor of five books and numerous articles. He is also a former Chair of Amnesty International USA and has worked in the U.S. State Department.