The Bunche Legacy Project

buncheADST’s Bunche Legacy Project seeks to advance understanding of the contributions of African Americans and other minority groups to diplomacy and foreign policy. It promotes the research, education, and understanding of inter-group relations between a broad diversity of Americans in the realms of diplomacy, conflict resolution, international affairs, global social issues, and international development.

To achieve these objectives, the Bunche Legacy Project is comprised of unique and diverse tools for collecting and disseminating information about the contributions of African Americans and other minorities to the U.S. diplomatic and foreign policy processes. In its initial stages, the Project’s focus is primarily on the contributions of African Americans.

African Americans have made significant contributions to the establishment of the United States as an independent sovereign nation as well as to its geographical consolidation and arrival as a world power.  But these contributions, particularly in the field of diplomacy and foreign affairs, are not widely known, celebrated, or critiqued. This is particularly true among the future generation of American leaders, including those in schools where young African Americans are in need of positive role models and mentors in their chosen careers paths.

This absence of role models and exemplars in today’s society is evident in many areas of American life, and is especially profound in diplomacy and foreign affairs. This can largely be attributed to the dearth of readily accessible information and resources that elevate specific individuals and examples of leadership in diplomacy and foreign affairs from the African American community.

There is scant reference, for example, to the first Black Harvard graduate, Richard Greener, who in 1898 became America’s principal diplomatic representative in Vladivostok, Russia after a brief assignment to Bombay, India, or to others who have followed. Other than a passing reference to him in literature on history of African Americans in U.S. diplomatic and foreign affairs, how much do we really know about Edward Dudley, who at age 38 became the first African American to serve as U.S. Ambassador, 56 years after that title was first officially used in U.S. diplomatic relations?

These are two powerful examples of African American diplomats who have been trailblazers and have made significant contributions to our nation’s diplomatic and foreign affairs. Yet their stories, as have those of countless other African American diplomats, have yet to be fully celebrated or explored.

The namesake of the Bunche Legacy Project, Dr. Ralph Bunche, may be one of the few exceptions to this rule as his life and career have been among those African American diplomats to be well-researched, critiqued, and celebrated. Dr. Bunche’s legacy of leadership goes beyond contributions to just America’s foreign policy prowess, as it also includes excellence in global conflict resolution as a preeminent peacekeeping and United Nations innovator.

He played a key role in the creation of the United Nations, including becoming Under Secretary General of that organization. He was recognized as a global peace-builder when he became the first African American and person of color worldwide to receive the Nobel Prize in 1950, for his role in negotiating peace between Israel and four of its Arab neighbors – Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria.

Dr. Bunche left a legacy of diplomatic achievements to be celebrated, duplicated, and imitated by all diplomats, regardless of race, gender, color, or nationality to the present day. The Bunche Legacy Project therefore honors its namesake, by celebrating, educating about, and critiquing the lives, careers, and achievements of African Americans, and representatives of other minority groups who, like Dr. Bunche, helped shaped U.S. diplomatic relations across the world.


The Four Pillars of the Bunche Legacy Project


Oral Histories  

ADST has conducted and collected the world’s largest foreign affairs oral history collection of interviews of current and former practitioners of U.S. diplomacy and foreign policy, both career and non-career, with nearly 2000 interviews archived on its site and at the Library of Congress. At least 60 of those oral histories are of African American diplomats. (Since ethnic identification is not tallied separately in all of the ADST oral histories, this number may be even larger.)

The Bunche Legacy Project will continue to identify those additional histories and collect more to strengthen its contributions to telling the first-hand stories of the diversity in American diplomacy and foreign policy processes. The Project continues to categorize, code, and synthesize the available oral histories, helping them to become even stronger tools for educating about the multi-faceted lives and careers of America’s diplomatic and foreign affairs leadership.

Also, among ADST’s collection is a series of oral histories of 11 of the first African American Ambassadors, which includes 62 hours of audio transcriptions and five hours of video recordings. Additionally, ADST has video oral histories of other African American Ambassadors, Foreign Service, senior Foreign Service, and foreign affairs officers, adding up to over 22 hours of video recordings.


The American Ambassadors Project

The American Ambassadors Project is the first comprehensive attempt to compile and report on the lives and contributions of Black Americans who have held the nation’s top diplomatic position – U.S. Ambassador – in countries and international institutions throughout the world. It is an ongoing research endeavor involving comprehensive collection and analysis of data leading to the production of editorial and scholarly literature and other media focused on exploring and educating on the topic of American Ambassadors of African descent.

Its goals are to add to the discourse around Black history, leadership, diplomacy, and international affairs, and bring to life the powerful and personal stories of Black Americans who possess one of the most respected official, professional titles in the world – Ambassador. The goal is to ensure that these rich oral histories, are utilized in the most effective manner so as to help tell the stories of African American and other minority groups’ contributions to U.S. diplomatic and foreign affairs. View the list of oral histories of American Ambassadors of African descent that are included as part of the Bunche Legacy Project.


Bunche Legacy Archival Gateway 

Color Ralph Bunche at UNAs part of the Bunche Legacy Project, a virtual portal and physical gateway is being conceptualized, with hopes of linking existing and future archives that house the papers, speeches, photos, artifacts, and related materials of African American and other diplomatic leaders from ethnic minority groups. The gateway, known as the Bunch Legacy Gateway (BLAG), will serve as a central switchboard that links the major digital collections (and collection search sites) together in an easy to navigate, searchable virtual space.

Additionally, the gateway will house and link oral history audio and video recordings; educational tools for classroom use; documentaries about African Americans and other minorities in U.S. diplomacy and foreign affairs; archival materials collected from diplomats and foreign affairs professionals; and other virtual resources. The physical gateway intends to be a home for donated materials of these same diplomats. Overall, the goal of the BLAG is to serve as an adjunct platform and clearinghouse for scholarly research by linking its own digital and physical archives with those of other educational and research institutions.


Bunche Legacy Educational Outreach 

A core component of the Bunche Legacy Project will be ongoing outreach and public education campaigns to spread the word about the significant contributions of African Americans and other minorities to U.S. diplomatic and foreign affairs. This will include webinars, round-table discussions, small exhibits for museums and libraries, videos, brochures, timelines, and other digital and print materials to highlight contributions, interpret and analyze those contributions, and tell key stories.

For more information contact:

Carlton McLellan, Ph.D.

Senior Fellow, ADST

Email: [email protected]

Comments are closed.