Ralph Bunche is the first person of color to win the Nobel Peace Prize in 1950 – nearly 50 years after the prize was formed. Bunche was a political scientist and educator lauded for his efforts during the Civil Rights movement. He was also instrumental in the formation of the United Nations. In 1949, as a U.N. mediator on Palestine, he successfully mediated an armistice agreement between Israel and Arab states. Prior to his work with the U.N., Bunche worked in the Dept of Political Science at Howard University.
Albert John Luthuli was a South African educator and Anti-Apartheid activist who later became president of the African National Congress (ANC), which would later be led by Nelson Mandela. Throughout his life he called for non-violent protest against the Apartheid government, for which he won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1960. Despite often being banned and placed under house arrest by the government for the majority of his ANC presidency, Luthuli still called for peace and “reason in race relations.” He died under suspicious circumstances seven years after receiving his Peace Prize.
Receiving his Nobel Peace Prize in 1984, Archbishop Desmond Tutu is the second South African recipient. A clergyman turned activist, Tutu organized non-violent marches calling for an economic boycott of South Africa during apartheid. Throughout his work he has always called for reconciliation. After the fall of Apartheid, Tutu headed the Truth and Reconciliation Commission which sought to reveal the human rights violations that had occurred against Black South Africans during Apartheid.
Nelson Mandela was the third South African to win the Nobel Peace Prize (in 1993) for his work in bringing about reconciliation in the country. Mandela was imprisoned for 27 years because of his Anti-Apartheid stance and later became the first Black President of South Africa. He shared the prize with F.W. De Klerk, the former president of South Africa, with whom he negotiated to bring about the first democratic election in the country. The two have been credited with helping South Africa avoid a racial and civil war.
Kofi Annan, the former Secretary General of the United Nations—the first Black African to hold the position, won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2001. Annan worked as a diplomat prior to accepting the position in 1997. He was awarded the prize (together with the U.N.) for his championing of causes like HIV/AIDS awareness and for his “work for a better organized and more peaceful world,” said the Nobel committee. As Secretary General, Annan also urged the US and UK not to enter into a war with Iraq.
Professor Wangari Maathai is a Kenyan environmental activist who founded the Green Belt Movement, which advocates environmental conservation through initiatives like planting trees. She won the Peace Prize in 2004. An outspoken political activist and champion of women’s rights, Maathai was often censored by the Kenyan government. Maatahi met President Obama during a much publicized trip to Kenya in 2006.
The Nobel committee awarded President Barack Obama the Peace Prize just 10 months into his presidency, citing his “extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples.” President Obama plans to give away his $1.4 million prize to charity. He is the third sitting U.S. president to receive the prize.