Tom Bradley '56

A Legacy of Leadership, A Lifetime of Achievement
(1917-1998)

For well over a century, Southwestern Law School has had a proud tradition of preparing students with diverse backgrounds to earn positions of responsibility and trust within the legal profession and the community. As early as 1915, Southwestern law degrees were being earned by such students as Betty Trier Berry, who became the first woman to work as a public defender in the United States, and B. Rey Schauer, who would eventually serve on the California Supreme Court. The long list of distinguished Southwestern alumni in positions of leadership in Southern California and beyond includes many elected officials, top prosecutors, defense attorneys, judges and corporate leaders.

But one individual who epitomized that tradition perhaps more than any other Southwestern alumnus is Tom Bradley, ’56. Devoted to public service throughout his life, he is a major historic figure in the development of the city of Los Angeles, who served his community for nearly six decades as a police officer, councilman and five-term mayor.

According to the Los Angeles Times, “Bradley spent a lifetime bridging racial barriers and used his skills to forge extraordinary coalitions, most notably between blacks and Jews and between labor and business. He presided over a period of enormous growth in Los Angeles, leaving the gleaming downtown skyline of Bunker Hill and the start of a subway and light-rail system as the most tangible of his legacies.

“Bradley also was key to the racial peace that the rapidly diversifying city enjoyed during most of his five-term hold on the mayor's office. He opened doors for minorities and women to serve on city commissions, to rise in the ranks of City Hall employees and to share in city contracts.”

Early Life in Los Angeles

Tom Bradley was born in Calvert, Texas in 1917, the son of sharecroppers and the grandson of a former slave. His family moved to California when he was seven. A product of the Los Angeles public school system, his high school academic and athletic abilities enabled him to pursue a higher education with distinction.

An All-City football player and a Southern California 440-yard dash champion, Bradley attended the University of California at Los Angeles on an academic scholarship where he went on to distinguish himself as a track star. Among his classmates were Jackie Robinson, Kenny Washington, Woody Strode and Dr. Ralph Bunche.

Prompted by a strong desire to serve the community, Bradley joined the Los Angeles Police Department in 1940. Shortly thereafter, he married Ethel Arnold, and the couple had two daughters, Lorraine and Phyllis.

Preparing for a Career in Law and Public Service

In 1952, Bradley enrolled in Southwestern Law School’s evening program while continuing to work full time as a police officer. Four years later, he graduated from Southwestern and passed the California Bar Exam. He retired from the Los Angeles Police Department in 1961, after more than two decades of service, with the rank of Lieutenant, the highest rank for an African American that was permitted during his career.

Following a few years in private law practice, and with the encouragement of a group of community leaders, Bradley entered the political arena, winning a Los Angeles City Council seat in 1963 by a two-thirds margin. He served on the City Council for 10 years before his election as mayor in 1973. He was reelected by large margins for four additional mayoral terms.

Leading a Global Metropolis

“It’s been a long way for Tom Bradley,” the newly elected mayor told the inauguration crowd on July 1, 1973. Tom Bradley made history, as he had several times before, by becoming the first African American mayor of the City of Los Angeles, the second largest city in the nation.

During his unprecedented five terms as Mayor of Los Angeles, the city transformed into a world center of unparalleled ethnic and cultural diversity. His legacy includes the expansion of some of the city’s most important economic strongholds, including the Los Angeles International Airport and the Los Angeles Harbor, as well as the advent of much-needed mass transit.

Under Mayor Bradley’s leadership, a new downtown skyline became a reality, a path-breaking Air Quality Plan was implemented, and one of the nation’s most ambitious urban recycling programs was launched. Bradley spearheaded the effort to bring the 1984 Olympic Games to Los Angeles, realizing the most successful Olympiad in the modern history of the competition, and bringing both prestige and $3 billion of economic activity to the city. He brought community resources, both human and financial, to over 400 elementary schools through L.A.’s BEST, providing after-school computer training, tutorial assistance and other enrichment activities to the next generation of Angelenos. And through many public-private partnerships, he urged and realized the accomplishments of other essential city-wide goals.

A Loyal Alumnus

Throughout his career, Mayor Bradley was always committed to and involved in the growth and development of Southwestern as well. Whether as a commencement speaker; as chair of scholarship, professorship or annual fund campaigns; welcoming new students; serving as a special guest at any number of events; serving on the Board of Trustees; or providing guidance in the law school’s acquisition of the Bullocks Wilshire landmark, he remained a key figure at Southwestern. In light of his contributions, Bradley was named “Alumnus of the Year” by the Southwestern Alumni Association in 1979 and the following year received an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from the law school. In 1993, the Southwestern Alumni Association recognized Mayor Bradley’s accomplishments and contributions to the City of Los Angeles and Southwestern with the first “Lifetime Achievement Award.”

An Inspiring Role Model

Mayor Bradley’s commitment to peace, justice and opportunity was steadfast throughout the years of Los Angeles’ growth, change and challenges, during his tenure as mayor, as city councilman, and as a Los Angeles police officer. His years in office serve as a hallmark of public service and exemplify the values Southwestern Law School strives to promote in its students. Mayor Bradley’s lifetime of achievement and his motivation and support of others provides the highest role model for current and future generations of legal professionals and public servants.

  1. A Legacy of Leadership

    Mayor Tom Bradley devoted himself to meeting the needs of his constituents, striving to build and shape Los Angeles into a city where people from all walks of life and all ethnic and cultural backgrounds can live, work and prosper in harmony. The public service legacy of the Tom Bradley Era in the City of Los Angeles includes:

    • 53 years of dedicated public service to the City of Los Angeles
    • More than 20 years distinguished service on the Los Angeles Police Department
    • First African American elected to the Los Angeles City Council
    • First African American elected Mayor of Los Angeles
    • Served unprecedented 20 years of service as Mayor
    • Greatly expanded the representation and advancement of women and minorities on city commissions, in key City Hall executive positions and in the awarding of city contracts
    • Prevailed in bringing civilian oversight and reform to the Los Angeles Police Department
    • Brought the 1984 Summer Olympic Games to Los Angeles—the most successful Olympiad in the history of the quadrennial international sports competition
    • Promoted the expansion of the Los Angeles International Airport and the Los Angeles Harbor—now leaders in the world for cargo and commerce
    • Driving force in developing the Los Angeles Metro Rail Project and Los Angeles County’s light rail system, envisioned at the time as a 150-mile rapid transit program when completed
    • Implemented numerous public-private partnerships to accomplish city-wide goals
    • Instrumental in the redevelopment of the downtown civic center, and establishment of satellite business hubs in Century City and Warner Center
    • Supported low-income housing projects built by the Community Redevelopment Agency, as well as badly needed shopping centers in the inner city
    • Implemented a path-breaking 63-point Air Quality Plan
    • Initiated L.A.’s BEST, a city-wide after-school enrichment program to train and tutor elementary school students
    • Founded DARE, an anti-drug education program replicated nationwide
    • Signed city’s first gay rights bill in 1979
    • Signed first AIDS anti-discrimination bill in 1985 that became a national model, and established the city’s AIDS Coordinator Office in the Community Development Department
    • Spearheaded Los Angeles’ commitment to an anti-apartheid South African divestment policy, the first in the nation
  2. Mayor Bradley and Southwestern

    Since graduating from Southwestern in 1956, Mayor Tom Bradley maintained close ties with his alma mater. This timeline highlights some of the many milestone events in which he participated over the years:

    1952

    Tom Bradley enrolls in the evening division at Southwestern

    1956

    Tom Bradley graduates from Southwestern

    1978

    The Tom Bradley Scholarship Endowment Fund, Southwestern’s largest endowment program, is established

    The First Annual Tom Bradley Scholarship Fund Dinner is held at the Century Plaza Hotel

    Tom Bradley serves as Southwestern’s Honorary Annual Fund Chair

    Tom Bradley is a special guest at the groundbreaking and time capsule ceremony for the expansion of Southwestern’s Westmoreland campus

    1979

    Tom Bradley is named Southwestern’s Alumnus of the Year

    Second Annual Tom Bradley Scholarship Fund Dinner is held at the Century Plaza Hotel; Los Angeles City Councilman John Ferraro honored with Southwestern’s Distinguished Citizen Award

    1980

    Tom Bradley serves as Commencement Speaker and is awarded Honorary Doctor of Laws Degree from Southwestern at the 65th Annual Commencement Exercises

    Third Annual Tom Bradley Scholarship Fund Dinner is held at the Century Plaza Hotel; William Robertson, Secretary-Treasurer of the American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) is honored with Southwestern’s Distinguished Citizen Award

    1981

    Fourth Annual Tom Bradley Scholarship Fund Dinner is held at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel; Los Angeles City Councilman Gilbert Lindsay is honored with Southwestern’s Distinguished Citizen Award

    Tom Bradley serves as special guest host for a reception at the J. Paul Getty Museum honoring Dean Leigh H. Taylor as Southwestern’s newly appointed Chief Executive Officer

    1983

    Fifth Annual Tom Bradley Scholarship Fund Dinner is held at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel; Lee Rich, co-founder and Chairman of Lorimar Productions is honored with Southwestern’s Distinguished Citizen Award

    Tom Bradley is a luncheon sponsor and special guest speaker at the Judges Luncheon honoring the judiciary alumni of Southwestern

    1984

    Sixth Annual Tom Bradley Scholarship Fund Dinner is held at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel; Prominent entertainment attorney E. Gregory Hookstratten, ’57, is honored with Southwestern’s Distinguished Citizen Award

    1985

    Tom Bradley serves as Co-Chair of the 75th Birthday Celebration for Irwin R. Buchalter ‘33 in honor of the establishment of the Buchalter Distinguished Professorship of Law, Southwestern’s first professorship.

    Tom Bradley is a sponsor for the Sixth Annual Douglas A. Salem Memorial Scholarship Fund Dinner.

    1987

    Tom Bradley serves as honorary chairman of the Gilbert and Theresa Lindsay Scholarship Endowment Fund “Educating for Leadership” Luncheon

    1993

    Tom Bradley is selected as the first recipient of the Southwestern Alumni Association’s Lifetime Achievement Award

    Tom Bradley appointed to the Southwestern Board of Trustees

    Tom Bradley serves as liaison/advisor in Southwestern’s acquisition of the Bullocks Wilshire Building and property