On May 29th 1973, Tom Bradley was elected as the first black mayor of the City of Los Angeles, but who was Tom Bradley before he became mayor of Los Angeles?
Tom Bradley was born on December 29th 1917, and was the son of sharecropped and grandson of slaves. He moved away from the South when he was about seven years old to Los Angeles, because Los Angeles was considered the, “Promise Land,” providing the hope for a better life, from lynching’s and urban riots that were forced upon Negro’s in the South.
The city of Los Angeles offered Bradley the possible dream of a life filled with hope, and enduring belief that he could change the impossible in how white people felt about blacks.
Raised by a single mother, Tom Bradley challenged every obstacle placed in his way. He was an ambitious student, attended UCLA, became a record-breaking track star and team captain, and was one of a small group of athletes that broke the color barrier in college sports.
He served as a Los Angeles Police officer for 21 years, reaching the rank of Lieutenant, the highest position an African American could achieve at that time.
When covert racism prevented him from advancing his career, Bradley attended Southwestern Law School at night, passed the bar the first time, and became an attorney. With his law degree in hand, he resigned from the LAPD.
While he was a police officer, Bradley became actively involved in politics, notably the Democratic Minority Conference and the California Democratic Council, a progressive, liberal reform group with a racially mixed membership.
In the 1960s, America was polarized by race and mired in increasing social and political turmoil. A conservative reaction led to the election of Sam Yorty as Mayor of Los Angeles in 1961.
Four years later in 1965, the Watts Riots in South Central Los Angeles ignited a wave of large-scale unrests throughout the nation and signaled an alarm that change was needed.
In 1968, Dr. Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. and presidential candidate Robert Kennedy were assassinated within months of each other; anti-Vietnam war demonstrations escalated; and more than 20,000 students in five East LA schools walked out, protesting racial inequality.
It was in this atmosphere that two-term City Councilman Tom Bradley decided to challenge Sam Yorty in 1969 for Mayor of Los Angeles.
In 1973, the paranoia in America was no longer at a fever pitch as violent uprisings and protests subsided. Voters put aside their fears and handed Tom Bradley a solid victory. Tom Bradley made history as the first African American mayor of a major U.S. city with a white majority.
He was successful because he continued to build upon his trans-racial coalition – the most durable and significant in American modern history, and when he won, it opened up a new future for race relations nationwide.
In 1992, Los Angeles exploded into three days of civil unrest and shattered the illusion that a black mayor could end inequality and hopelessness. Bradley did not seek a sixth term and announced his retirement in 1993. Three years later, he suffered a stroke, which left him partially paralyzed and unable to speak for the rest of his life. In 1998, he died of a heart attack. Tom Bradley was 80 years old.
In lieu of today’s story one of my favorite quotes from the late Tom Bradley is when he said, “The only thing that will stop you from fulfilling your dreams is you.”
Don’t stop dreaming, because some day your dreams might change the way people think about this world we all live in, have a wonderful weekend.
Written and Designed by JD Mitchell