The First African-American Mayor of Los Angeles Elected
On May 29, 1973, Thomas “Tom” Bradley made history when he was elected Los Angeles’ first Black mayor. His coalition of Black, Jewish, Asian and white voters allowed him to defeat the incumbent Mayor Sam Yorty.
Bradley was born on December 29, 1917, to sharecropper parents in Calvert, Texas. When he was seven years old, his parents moved to Los Angeles, where he excelled. He attended the University of California Los Angeles on an athletic scholarship, but he stopped going after he decided to pursue a career with the Los Angeles police department. Throughout his career as an officer, Bradley worked his way up to become a lieutenant, which was the highest rank achieved by an African American at the time. He also received his law degree from Southwestern University in 1956.
During his time as a police officer, Bradley began to take an interest in politics. He joined organizations such as the Democratic Minority Conference and the California Democratic Council, which was a progressive reform group with racially mixed membership. However, by 1963, Bradley officially decided to get involved in politics and he became an active member of the Democratic Party. He went on to become one of three African Americans elected to the Los Angeles city council.
The racial tensions building up during the 1960s pushed Bradley to challenge Mayor Yorty for the role in 1968, even though he knew it would be a long shot. His first campaign against Yorty did not end in success. Bradley’s campaign was run based on a message of hope and change but that was overshadowed by racism, negative perceptions and other attacks from Yorty.
Luckily, Bradley had another chance to run for mayor. After an unsuccessful first campaign run, in 1973, voters put their fears aside and elected Bradley as the first Black mayor of Los Angeles. He became the first African-American mayor of a major U.S. city with an overwhelmingly white majority.
Under Bradley’s leadership, Los Angeles was able to transform from a place that was primarily conservative and white into one of the most important and diverse cities. Bradley continued to be reelected for a total of five terms and served in office from 1973 to 1993.