Ralph Bunche and the Responsibilities of the Public Intellectual*

By Holloway, Jonathan Scott | The Journal of Negro Education, Spring 2004 | Go to article overview

Ralph Bunche and the Responsibilities of the Public Intellectual*


Holloway, Jonathan Scott, The Journal of Negro Education


Drawing from the authoritative sources on Ralph Bunche's early years in the academy, his personal papers, and his publications from the 1930s, this essay discusses Bunche's political philosophies and how they were informed by the social realities of the world in which he and other Black scholars lived. This essay urges readers to look beyond his important international work in the second half of his career to his earlier years when he repeatedly challenged public and private orthodoxies in service of a larger ideal of a broad and universal humanity.

Ralph Bunche is remembered as one who frowned on confrontation. Internationally famous for his activities as a peace-broker for the Middle East, Bunche has gone down in history as a natural mediator-one who held his opinions closely and was skilled at political neutrality. Indeed, over the last 30 years of his life, as the modern civil rights movement emerged and then matured, an increasing number of activists thought Bunche was far too adept at avoiding political turmoil. In 1941, his colleague at Howard University, Arthur P. Davis, had only disparaging words for Bunche. Making reference to the hair coverings that allowed one to distinguish the field slaves from those in the plantation house, Davis observed, "There [are] bandana-handkerchief-headed Negroes, and silk-handkerchief-headed Negroes, but Ralph is a cellophane-handkerchief-headed Negro-you have to get off at a certain angle to see him" (Logan diary quoted in Janken, 1993, p. 207). W.E.B. DuBois chimed in as well, confiding to Howard University historian Rayford Logan that "Ralph Bunche is getting to be a white folks' 'nigger'" (p. 206). During the late 1960s, Bunche's do-good image frustrated such young Black radicals as Stokely Carmichael, who, when having Bunche's success offered as an example of civil rights progress, responded, "You can't have Bunche for lunch!" Other progressive Black leaders held similar views; Adam clayton Powell and Malcolm X dismissed Bunche as an "international Uncle Tom" (cited in Rivlin, 1990, p. 23).

Standing in stark contrast to the image of Ralph Bunche as the embodiment of the political establishment and a polished conciliator is the reality of a young intellectual who deplored capitalism on moral grounds and who openly questioned the status quo while urging others to do the same. Consider the fact that DuBois, who, by 1941, thought Bunche a "white folks' nigger," believed eight years earlier that Bunche was part of the vanguard of young, progressive Black American intellectuals.

DuBois's belief in Bunche's vanguardism grew from the fact that for the better part of the 1930s Bunche urged everyone he could-from interracial betterment organizations to graduate students at Princeton to the federal government-to address the needs of the working class before all else. He organized pickets of the Department of Justice, defended Howard University student protests at the United States Capitol, led a boycott against the segregation policy of Washington's National Theater, and helped organize the National Negro Congress (NNC; Holloway, 2002). During these years, he remained fiercely antiracialist, always trying to change the debate over the race problem in the United States into one that revolved around class. Through it all, Bunche never hesitated to criticize intellectuals and other "respectable types" who refused their moral obligations and tried to remain above the fray.

By looking back over his 1930s work, we can discern several issues about which Bunche never wavered. He did not relent in his desire to eliminate what he termed "racialism" and "racialist thought"; he remained a devout believer in the important role unfettered intellectuals and universities had to play in the modern world; and he maintained an abiding faith in the promise of American democracy. In fact, if one can find any change in his opinions on these matters, it would only be the increased intensity of his feelings. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Ralph Bunche and the Responsibilities of the Public Intellectual*
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.