Tom Bradley’s Los Angeles

Posted on February 15, 2014 by

With its dominant anti-union business class, racist and brutal police force and bigoted and provincial mayor, Los Angeles was a backwater city through the early 1970s.

Its transition to a world-class, cosmopolitan, diverse and liberal metropolitan region began 40 years ago with the election of Tom Bradley, an African-American former LAPD officer who built an electoral and governing coalition of Blacks, Latinos, Jews and others.

The first African-American mayor of a large white-majority city, Bradley would serve 20 years.  Though his tenure was marked by enormous achievements in trade, downtown construction and rail transportation, his political ambitions were stymied by two bitter defeats for governor; his legacy tarnished by the 1992 uprising triggered by the acquittal of the four cops accused of beating Rodney King.

Nevertheless, Tom Bradley is a pivotal figure in Southern California and nationally whose place in history has been largely overlooked.

Now, two local documentarians – Lyn Goldfarb and Alison Sotomayor – are about to correct that.  Their first installment is a 45-minute educational piece which surveys Bradley’s life and times.  Featuring footage and recent interviews with family and colleagues, “Tom Bradley’s Impossible Dream” is designed for high school students and older, offering a solid and easy-to-follow narrative: a must-see for this and all generations.

Next to appear will be a more nuanced and slightly longer version for PBS:  “Bridging the Divide: Tom Bradley and the Politics of Race.”

“Impossible Dream” was previewed recently at the African-American museum in Exposition Park and received a standing ovation.

If you were here during the Bradley years, the film will remind you of the mayor’s stature and quiet self-assurance.  You’ll also remember and appreciate – like many in the audience – all he did to make Los Angeles the inclusive and progressive city it has become.

Comments (2)


  1. Betty says:

    Good to see Tom Bradley remembered. He was a quiet powerful force. I was proud to be living in a city that looked at this gifted man and put him into office to unify the diverse ethnic community of citizens we were growing into becoming. Tom Bradley was the right person at the right time to bring about much needed change. And, change is what he did to grow Los Angeles into the great city it is today. He may be gone but what he started will continue to grow long after we fade away.

  2. Gavin Koon says:

    Thanks for reminding us of Tom Bradley. I was very fortunate to meet him once (he was a tall person) and I was very much impressed by his mild and calm demeanor. Since I have been doing Union labor work for several years now representing a couple of bargaining units at the City, I have become very familiar with the City and its politics, processes history, and much more. Tom Bradley left great legacy of good work at the City. Many changes for the good were done without fanfare in City on policy, procedures, operations, ethnic hiring to bring the City workforce in line with the City’s demographics, push on education, and do not forget his work on the Police Department.

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