Ralph J. Bunche, Jr. and the Selma-to-Montgomery, March 1965 A blog post by Genie Guerard, Curator and Manuscripts Librarian

As the month of March comes to a close, a dip into the papers of Ralph J. Bunche, Jr. reveals one of the many courageous journeys undertaken in his life, dedicated to civil rights, human rights and international peace. The 54-mile, three-day Selma to Montgomery march was organized as part of a series of non-violent protests which led to the passing of the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965. Even after the Civil Rights Act of 1964 banned discrimination in voting, racism and denial of voting rights had prevailed. Despite painful phlebitis caused by diabetes, the Undersecretary to the United Nations/Nobel laureate/UCLA grad, class of 1927 had “never been more proud of anything in my life than being able to participate in this march.” The papers not only document the strength, activism, determination and leadership of those who took part in the march, but also uncover Dr. Bunche’s inner thoughts as we witness his speech-writing process, in his hand, and learn what propelled him to take part, and what he wished to convey to the world on that historic day. There are many congratulatory messages as well in the archives, including one shown below from the renowned performer and activist, Josephine Baker.

Ralph Bunche shown on the Selma-Montgomery march, arm in arm with civil rights leaders: (left to right) Mrs. Rosa Parks, Rev. and Mrs. Ralph Abernathy, Dr. Bunche, Dr. Marin Luther King Jr. and his wife, Coretta Scott King. Ebony Magazine, cover, May 1965

Dr. Bunche received this invitation from Dr. King on March 18, 1965:

He accepted the invitation…

…and began working on his speech. At the conclusion of the march, Dr. Bunche gave the opening speech on the steps of the Alabama State Capitol in Montgomery. Dr. Ralph Abernathy was MC, and other speeches followed Dr. Bunche’s, among them Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth, John Lewis, Rosa Parks, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Below are some of his thoughts, notes jotted, typed, annotated, and refined:

The full speech, as written, shown here:

Below is a telegram from Josephine Baker to Ralph Bunche:

The papers of Ralph Bunche are held in the UCLA Library Special Collections. Selections from the collection have been digitized and are freely available online:

Created By
Genie Guerard, UCLA Library Special Collections


Ralph J. Bunche papers (Collection 2051). UCLA Library Special Collections, Charles E. Young Research Library.