In 1940, when Tom Bradley became a Los Angeles police officer, he wasn't allowed to ride in the same patrol car as his white colleague.
Thirty-three years later, the quiet Texas sharecropper's son shattered racial barriers, becoming the first black mayor of Los Angeles and launching a 20-year tenure as its symbol of maturation into a world-class city.Bradley, who suffered a stroke two years ago, died Tuesday after a heart attack at Kaiser Permanente Hospital in Los Angeles. He was 80.
A man of quiet determination, Bradley spent a lifetime bridging racial barriers, opening city government to minorities and women, expanding social services to the urban poor and spurring economic growth.
"He was the one who dreamed impossible dreams when others didn't believe," said John Mack, president of the Los Angeles Urban League.
Bradley called racism "America's greatest evil," but his hatred of it was global. He was a hero to South Africans shackled by apartheid and a role model to would-be politicians across America. In 1985, he wrote Pieter Botha, then president of South Africa: "Do away with apartheid or surely it will do away with you."
Elected the first black mayor of a major U.S. city in 1973, Bradley proved that minority politicians could win office with white votes.
After taking office, Bradley changed the face of city government by appointing minorities and women.
"If you went to City Hall in the old days, there was no black person other than the janitor until Tom Bradley was elected," said Appeals Court Judge Stephen Reinhardt. "It was like a foreign country for blacks."
A soft-spoken man, Bradley governed quietly during his five terms by building coalitions instead of using the bully pulpit. His long hours and energy, even into his 70s, were legendary.
The son of a sharecropper, Bradley was born Dec. 29, 1917 in Calvert, Texas. His parents later moved west. At the University of California, Los Angeles, Bradley was a track star.
While a police officer, he earned a law degree at Southwestern University. When he left the police department, he had become its first black lieutenant.
In 1963, Bradley won a City Council seat. Six years later, he ran for mayor but lost to white candidate Sam Yorty after a bitter, racially tinged campaign. Bradley waited and ran again, winning with 56 percent of the vote in 1973.