Even if he had only served four years, Tom Bradley’s legacy as Los Angeles’ 38th mayor would have been noteworthy just for the fact that he was a grandson of black slaves who was elected in 1973 to lead a racially polarized, overwhelmingly white city. In his unprecedented 20 years in office, however, Bradley did much more to leave his mark on the city. During his five terms – and especially after the 1984 Olympic Games – the city saw its skyline and profile on the world stage rise. Angelenos, who are notoriously burdened by civic inferiority complexes, began to use (and, perhaps, overuse) the phrase “world class” when describing everything from L.A.’s harbor to its cultural scene, fashion industry, culinary offerings and museums.
City residents also started to look at race and opportunity more closely, as their mayor opened doors to nonwhites that had been welded shut for decades, while forging international business alliances that pulled L.A. out of its provincial slumber and into the forefront of international commerce. Not everything, certainly, that occurred on his watch was good (his last term was scarred by scandal and the 1992 civil unrest) and not everything that was good was a direct result of his work. But Bradley remained an enabler of possibilities, a consensus builder of coalitions that transcended race and ethnicity. In some ways he was the last mayor of a Los Angeles that worked as a city.
A few years ago, filmmakers Lyn Goldfarb and Alison Sotomayor were working on an episode of PBS’ California and the American Dream series, when they discovered there were no documentaries or scholarly body of work about Bradley and his administration. Since then, the pair have been working on a documentary, Bridging the Divide: Tom Bradley and the Politics of Race, which will appear on PBS this year.
This Thursday Goldfarb and Sotomayor, along with the California African American Museum, will sponsor a free premiere screening of Tom Bradley’s Impossible Dream, a shorter education video that similarly examines Bradley’s life and accomplishments. Narrated by Shari Belafonte, the documentary will be part of the Los Angeles Unified School District’s curriculum and give those students who were not yet born when Bradley left office a chance to see how their city grew up during his tenure.
When: Thursday, February 13, 5-7 p.m.
Where: California African American Museum, 600 State Drive, Exposition Park.
Required: RSVP to (213) 744-2024
Capital & Main