Martin Luther King Jr. was a Nobel Prize for Peace recipient in 1964 for his tireless and dangerous work during the Civil Rights Movement. Obama, of course, became President of the United States 40 years after King was assassinated in Memphis, Tenn. Many view the current commander in chief as the heir apparent of King’s “Dream.”
Ralph Bunche, a prominent leader during King’s era, was the first black person awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1950 for his successful mediation in the arduous armistice agreement between Israel and its then-hostile neighbors: Egypt, Jordan, Lebonon and Syria. Bunche’s efforts were historic for it remains the first and only time that the four nations have come together on such an accord.
Obama is the third sitting U.S. President and the eighth black person to become a Nobel Laureate. Five Africans have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize since Bunche broke the international color line:
1. Chief Albert Luthuli, leader of South Africa’s African National Congress (1960)
2. Bishop Desmond Tutu, the spiritual leader and conscience of the South African Apartheid resistance (1984)
3. Nelson Mandela, who shared the Peace Prize with former South African president F.W. de Klerk, for their work to dismantle Apartheid and lead South Africa toward peace. (1993)
4. Kofi Annan, United Nations Secretary General, shared with the UN (2001)
5. Wangari Muta Maathai, Kenyan environmentalist (2004)
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT ON WINNING THE NOBEL PEACE PRIZE
From the Rose Garden
11:16 A.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Good morning. Well, this is not how I expected
to wake up this morning. After I received the news, Malia walked in
and said, “Daddy, you won the Nobel Peace Prize, and it is Bo’s
birthday!” And then Sasha added, “Plus, we have a three-day
weekend coming up.” So it’s good to have kids to keep things in
I am both surprised and deeply humbled by the decision of the
Nobel Committee. Let me be clear: I do not view it as a recognition of
my own accomplishments, but rather as an affirmation of American
leadership on behalf of aspirations held by people in all nations.
To be honest, I do not feel that I deserve to be in the company
of so many of the transformative figures who’ve been honored by this
prize — men and women who’ve inspired me and inspired the entire
world through their courageous pursuit of peace.
But I also know that this prize reflects the kind of world
that those men and women, and all Americans, want to build — a world
that gives life to the promise of our founding documents. And I know
that throughout history, the Nobel Peace Prize has not just been used
to honor specific achievement; it’s also been used as a means to give momentum
to a set of causes. And that is why I will accept this award as a call to
action — a call for all nations to confront the common challenges of the
These challenges can’t be met by any one leader or any one nation.
And that’s why my administration has worked to establish a new era
of engagement in which all nations must take responsibility for the
world we seek. We cannot tolerate a world in which nuclear weapons
spread to more nations and in which the terror of a nuclear holocaust
endangers more people.
And that’s why we’ve begun to take concrete steps to pursue
a world without nuclear weapons, because all nations have the right to
pursue peaceful nuclear power, but all nations have the responsibility to
demonstrate their peaceful intentions.
We cannot accept the growing threat posed by climate change, which could forever
damage the world that we pass on to our children — sowing conflict and
famine; destroying coastlines and emptying cities. And that’s why all
nations must now accept their share of responsibility for transforming the
way that we use energy.
We can’t allow the differences between peoples to define the way that
we see one another, and that’s why we must pursue a new beginning
among people of different faiths and races and religions; one based
upon mutual interest and mutual respect.
And we must all do our part to resolve those conflicts that have caused so
much pain and hardship over so many years, and that effort must include an
unwavering commitment that finally realizes that the rights of all
Israelis and Palestinians to live in peace and security in nations of
We can’t accept a world in which more people are denied opportunity
and dignity that all people yearn for — the ability to get an education
and make a decent living; the security that you won’t have to live in
fear of disease or violence without hope for the future.
And even as we strive to seek a world in which conflicts
are resolved peacefully and prosperity is widely shared, we have to
confront the world as we know it today. I am the Commander-in-Chief of a
country that’s responsible for ending a war and working in another theater
to confront a ruthless adversary that directly threatens the American people
and our allies. I’m also aware that we are dealing with the impact of a
global economic crisis that has left millions of Americans looking for
work. These are concerns that I confront every day on behalf of the American
Some of the work confronting us will not be completed during
my presidency. Some, like the elimination of nuclear weapons, may not
be completed in my lifetime. But I know these challenges can be met
so long as it’s recognized that they will not be met by one person or
one nation alone. This award is not simply about the efforts of my administration
— it’s about the courageous efforts of people around the world.
And that’s why this award must be shared with everyone who strives for
justice and dignity — for the young woman who marches silently in the
streets on behalf of her right to be heard even in the face of beatings
and bullets; for the leader imprisoned in her own home because she refuses
to abandon her commitment to democracy; for the soldier who sacrificed
through tour after tour of duty on behalf of someone half a world away;
and for all those men and women across the world who sacrifice their
safety and their freedom and sometime their lives for the cause of peace.
That has always been the cause of America. That’s why the
world has always looked to America. And that’s why I believe America
will continue to lead.
Thank you very much.
END 11:22 A.M. EDT