Young people of all races could find no better role model than the Ralph Bunche who is portrayed in Haskins’ biography. Bunche’s difficult path from childhood poverty to international acclaim and his significant contributions to humanity should serve as an inspiration to everyone. That those successes were achieved despite coming to adulthood during the Great Depression and despite the rampant racism in American society that created numerous obstacles for Bunche only underscores the book’s central theme: Effort and perseverance, regardless of one’s circumstance, lead to success and personal fulfillment.
Haskins highlights those qualities in Bunche most clearly in his account of Bunche’s conduction of the negotiations which he directed between Israeli and Arab diplomats in 1949. During eighty-one days of nonstop talks, Bunche worked his staff and the often-obstinate diplomats to exhaustion, at one point locking himself and the Arab and Israeli delegates in a room for twenty hours, refusing to adjourn until a particularly difficult problem had been resolved. Haskins makes clear to his readers that this sort of dedication inevitably leads to victory. In this case, success resulted in the Nobel Peace Prize for Bunche. Haskins makes it clear, however, that Bunche was much more than a successful mediator for the United Nations.
Haskins shows that, even at an early age, Bunche refused to acquiesce to the racist insistence on his...
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Haskins attempts to pay tribute to a relatively unknown American who contributed significantly to the cause of world peace. At the same time, he tries to show the dehumanizing effects of racial prejudice and discrimination from the point of view of a sensitive and talented individual who had to endure them. Written at a time when the United States was adjusting uneasily to the legal equality achieved by African Americans during the 1960’s, Ralph Bunche served as a reminder to all Americans that, until an individual such as Bunche can be accepted as a hero by people of all colors, the promise inherent in the Constitution of the United States will never be realized. By continual references to the status of African Americans at various points in Bunche’s life, Haskins exposes the essential mindlessness of racism and its debilitating effects on not only those discriminated against but the discriminators as well.
Haskins also succeeds in showing that the enduring curse of racism can only be addressed effectively through an international effort that considers the problem in all parts of the world. He focuses attention on the indispensable role the United Nations must play in any such effort. Nevertheless, the Ralph Bunche that Haskins describes would probably not be entirely pleased with the biography. In all likelihood, he would prefer to be remembered by a society in which color no longer matters, simply as a person who made the world a better place by having lived in it.