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An African American man in a pinstriped suit with a striped tie and a white handkerchief in his right pocket.

Tom Bradley International Terminal Opens

Tom Bradley, the first African-American mayor of Los Angeles, attended UCLA from 1937 to 1940 before he joined the LAPD. Bradley is only half-way through his tenure as mayor in 1984 when Los Angeles International Airport opens the Tom Bradley Terminal in his honor.

Tom Bradley International Terminal opened in conjunction with the 1984 Summer Olympic Games in Los Angeles. Los Angeles International Airport had begun a $700 million expansion three years earlier in anticipation of the games. On July 8, 1982, Bruin and Mayor Tom Bradley conducted the groundbreaking for the project. Less than two years later, on June 11, 1984, the nearly million-square-foot, $123 million international terminal that took the name of the city’s first African-American mayor opened. When Bradley dedicated the five-story terminal, it was the largest airport facility in the country devoted to agriculture, customs and public health.

Bradley himself was the grandson of a slave and the son of sharecroppers from Calvert, Texas. His family moved to Los Angeles in 1924 when he was six years old. He attended Polytechnic High School in Los Angeles, where he was the first African American elected student president of the Poly Boys’ League, captain of the track team and an All-City tackle on the football team. He arrived at UCLA in 1937 on an athletic scholarship, starring as captain of the Bruin track team. Bradley began a long involvement with black fraternity Kappa Alpha Psi when he joined during his time on campus. Indeed, Bradley later looked back at his time at UCLA as life-changing.  

In 1940, Bradley entered the Los Angeles Police Department academy. At the time, just 100 of the department’s 4,000 officers were African American. He worked his way up to the rank of lieutenant, then the highest an African-American officer had ever achieved. Bradley, who attended law school while a police officer, retired after 21 years of service to begin practicing law. Though, his penchant for public service meant politics would be his ultimate ambition. He ran for Los Angeles City Council in 1963 and won, becoming the first black person elected to the council, before twice being reelected. Buoyed by these successes, Bradley challenged incumbent Mayor Sam Yorty in the 1969 election and finished first in the primary. Bradley failed to win the election, but came back again to defeat Yorty in 1973. Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley embodied the California dream and the American dream.

That LAX’s international terminal is named after Bradley is no mistake —Tom Bradley International Hall at UCLA is also named after the famed mayor and provides a multiculturally-oriented community space for students on campus. Bradley was at the center of the city’s successful Olympic Games and the concurrent expansion of the airport. And over his 20-year tenure as mayor, Bradley opened Los Angeles up to the Pacific Rim and helped the city forge ties with businesses in Asia. The ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach are among the world’s busiest, as a result. In 2013, the city renovated Bradley Terminal. Now 10 million passengers per year travel through its gates.