MARCH 29, 1973
Tom Bradley became mayor of Los Angeles — the first Black mayor of a predominantly white major city in the U.S.
Bradley was born into poverty in Texas, the son of sharecroppers and the grandson of slaves. Seven years after his birth, his family moved to Los Angeles. He attended UCLA on a track scholarship and left there to join the Los Angeles Police Department. After his 21 years at the department, he became a lieutenant — the highest rank achieved by a black officer at the time.
In 1963, he became the first Black member elected to the Los Angeles City Council. After losing his first race for mayor in 1969, he returned to defeat incumbent Sam Yorty, building a coalition with White voters. His 20 years in office marked the longest tenure of any mayor in the city’s history.
During his time, he oversaw great expansion of the city and the 1984 Summer Olympics. During his tenure, he also appointed Myrlie Evers to the Public Works Commission.
“His mayoralty was a time in which Los Angeles reconfigured itself, redefined itself,” historian Kevin Starr told the Los Angeles Times.
But the humble politician saw his share of disappointment, falling thousands of votes short of becoming California’s first Black governor in 1982. He also endured his share of criticism for his “nearly expressionless demeanor,” receiving the nickname “The Sphinx of City Hall.” Criticism also came in 1991 after four white police officers beat Rodney King — an assault captured on videotape. He died in the hospital in 1998 after suffering an unexpected heart attack — his second.
Raphael J. Sonenshein, the author of Politics in Black and White: Race and Power in Los Angeles, called Bradley “the most important political figure in Los Angeles in the last three decades.” The Los Angeles International Airport now features a bust of Bradley, and the international terminal bears his name.