Tom Bradley made history in the summer of 1973 by becoming Los Angeles’ first, and to date, only Black mayor. The historic feat made the late politician just the second Black person to hold a mayoral seat in a major U.S. city.
Bradley was born on December 29, 1917 in Calvert, Texas to sharecropper parents and was the grandson of a former slave. The family moved west to the Los Angeles in search of opportunities. Bradley excelled both academically and as an athlete, becoming a star in football and track.
After entering UCLA in 1937 on an athletic scholarship, Bradley became a member of the Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity. While attending UCLA, Bradley joined the Los Angeles Police Department and went on to study at Southwestern Law School. Bradley was married in 1941 to Ethel Arnold.
After retiring from the LAPD as a lieutenant, the highest rank he could obtain at the time, he went into law. In the early ‘60’s, Bradley began to involve himself in politics and ran for city council. At the age of 45, Bradley became the council’s first Black member in 1963.
The chase for the mayor’s seat began in 1969 in a failed bid. He regrouped four years later and was victorious, ultimately making vast changes to the city’s landscape. He signed the city’s first gay rights bill, and addressed the AIDS crisis of the ‘80’s. Bradley was also instrumental in bringing the 1984 Summer Olympic Games to the city, among other notable accomplishments.
Bradley did have some critics, particularly of his handling of Rodney King’s arrest and beating in 1991 and the subsequent riots. Still, his ability to broker deals for development and bring businesses to the city were unparalleled.
After five terms and twenty years, Bradley stepped down from the mayor’s office and went back to private practice. He remains Los Angeles’ longest-tenured mayor. A gubernatorial bid in 1982 ended in a narrow loss for Bradley, giving way to the term “the Bradley effect,” which points to the margin of votes when a white and non-white candidate face each other in the polls.
Bradley passed in 1998 at the age of 80.