Hired in 1926 by Mordecai Johnson, the university’s first black president, Ralph Bunche (1904-1971) established and chaired Howard’s Department of Political Science. He also advised a student group that went on to work with local churches and community organizations in forming a local chapter of the National Negro Congress (NNC). The NNC saw economic exploitation as central to white supremacy and organized boycotts, strikes, and marches across class lines.
In 1935, Bunche helped organize a protest against the white-owned National Theatre’s policy of excluding African American audiences, resulting in a short-lived change in the theater’s policy. That same year, his students at Howard joined more than 100,000 other college students in a nationwide strike against war and fascism.
In 1941, Bunche, who had lived in several houses in the general vicinity of Howard University, commissioned noted African American architect Hilyard Robinson to design a new house for him on Jackson Street in the quiet middle-class community of Brookland. Robinson had designed, two years earlier, a house for civil rights leader Rayford Logan on the same block. Bunche lived in this house for six years until he accepted a position with the United Nations and he and his family moved to New York.
Bunche later enjoyed a long career in U.S. foreign affairs, with distinguished service to the United Nations from 1946 until 1970. In 1950, he became the first African American to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, which honored his efforts as a United Nations mediator between the Arab states and Israel in 1949.
Bunche was a speaker at the 1965 Selma to Montgomery march led by the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.