Thomas Bradley was born December 29, 1917 on a cotton plantation in Calvert, Texas where his father, Lee Thomas Bradley, was a sharecropper. Bradley was the second of seven children. His grandparents had been slaves. At age seven, his family moved to Los Angeles where his mother, Crenner Bradley worked as a maid to support the children. In his youth, Bradley earned money with a paper route and, later, as a publicity photographer for the comedian Jimmy Durante.
Bradley attended the University of California, Los Angeles on a track scholarship in 1937, but dropped out after his junior year to join the Los Angeles Police Department, where he stayed for 21 years.
While working as a police officer, he went to law school at night and eventually earned a law degree from Southwestern University. Meanwhile, he was working his way up from walking a beat to the rank of lieutenant, the highest rank a black officer had achieved at the time. But in 1961, he concluded that he could go no higher, and quit the department.
He worked for a time for a law firm, but his real interest was politics, and in 1963, he became the first Black elected to the Los Angeles City Council, to which he was re-elected twice.
In 1973, he became the city's first Black mayor by winning 56 percent of the vote. At the time, Los Angeles was the nation's third-largest city and largely white, with an estimated Black population of 15 percent. Bradley's election reflected a significant change in local politics in the United States. For most of that time, Bradley was an immensely popular figure whose stately bearing and placid demeanor seemed to reassure the residents of his increasingly polyglot city.
Soft-spoken and self-effacing, Bradley shunned some of the perquisites that his stature and office might have brought him. Calling it a foolish waste of money, he refused to use a cellular telephone that was installed in his car, a former aide recalled. Still, Bradley learned to move as easily in the society of the fabulously wealthy as he did in the world of the poor and disadvantaged from which he had come.
Despite a long period of relative harmony in the city, Bradley's tenure was marked at the beginning and at the end by racial strife.
He first ran for mayor in 1969, when the Watts riots of four years earlier were still an open wound in Los Angeles. He was painted as a dangerous radical by the incumbent mayor, Sam Yorty, and lost.
In April 1992, as Bradley was mulling over whether to run for a sixth term, the city was roiled by three days of riots sparked by the acquittal of four white police officers who had been charged with the beating of an unarmed black motorist, Rodney King.
Bradley was deeply affected by the riots and, five months later, announced that he would not run for mayor again. "The April unrest tore at my heart," he said, "and I will not be at peace until we have healed our wounds and rebuilt our neighborhoods."
Like most in Los Angeles, Bradley was taken by surprise by the rioting. "He never really understood it," a friend recalled. "It was a tragedy in his life that you can't overestimate. It was like he was hit in the stomach with a two-by-four."
After serving four additional terms as mayor, serving twenty years, he retired from politics in 1993. Since stepping down as mayor, Bradley was associated with the Los Angeles office of Brobeck, Phleger & Harrison, a San Francisco law firm that hoped to capitalize on his ties to Asia; Bradley had vigorously courted businesses in Pacific Rim nations on behalf of Los Angeles while he was mayor.
During Bradley's 20 years in office, Los Angeles developed into an important world city, adding a major international airport, expanding the Port of Los Angeles, and hosting the 1984 Summer Olympic Games. Los Angeles was transformed from a collection of suburban neighborhoods to what Bradley liked to call a "world-class city" with glittering skyscrapers, a dramatic new skyline and a vibrant downtown. During the Bradley years, Los Angeles surpassed Chicago to become the United States' second-largest city. The city's financial and business district was revitalized and construction of a subway was begun.
The five-time Los Angeles mayor was unable to a win higher office, despite winning the Democratic Party nomination for governor in 1982 and 1986. In 1982, with Los Angeles booming, Bradley tried the first of two attempts to defeat the incumbent Republican, George Deukmejian, for governor of California, but lost by less than one percentage point.
January 24, 1985, Thomas Bradley received the 69th NAACP Springam Award for becoming a four-term mayor of Los Angeles, overseeing the most successful Olympics in history, and "demonstrating ... that the American dream not only be pursued but realized."
A symbol of propriety and ethics, Bradley felt particularly wounded in 1989 when newspapers began raising questions about his personal financial and business dealings. The stories, which prompted investigations by law-enforcement authorities, described how for years Bradley had been paid as a director or consultant for banks that did business with the city. Also, he had failed to disclose some investments and stock dealings.
Eventually he was cleared of any criminal wrongdoing, but he agreed to pay a $20,000 civil penalty for the disclosure lapses. And he conceded that he had made "an error in judgment" by accepting outside employment while mayor. The damage to his reputation had been done.
In March of 1996, two weeks after undergoing cardiac bypass surgery, Bradley suffered a cerebral vascular accident that left him partially paralyzed. He died at age 80 due to a myocardial infarction in September of 1998.
Compiled from http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~txrober2/TOMBRADLEY.htm, http://topics.nytimes.com/topics/reference/timestopics/people/b/tom_bradley/index.html, and www.anothershadeofcolor.com.