Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once reminded us that "the arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice." And so it did for Tom Bradley -- whose whole life was a testament to justice, hope, and an audacious faith in the future.
For this son of a share-cropper and grandson of a slave, that arc led all the way from a tiny log cabin in rural Texas, to the towering skyline he helped to build, in this place he helped to make one of the greatest cities in the world.
He was always the last to speak of the hardships he overcame, but Mayor Bradley's journey was really the American journey:
The seven-year-old child who looked down at his bleeding hands after a long day of picking cotton and said: I'm going to make a better life for myself.
The high school student who resisted his guidance counselors' advice to stick to vocational classes, when they said he stood little chance of getting into college.
The policeman on the beat who rose to Lieutenant, and then shattered the glass ceiling that momentarily slowed him down -- by winning election as the first African-American ever to serve on the City Council.
The community leader who knew that being mayor of a great city isn't about being black or white -- it's about doing what is right. He healed this city. And he proved to the whole world that Los Angeles's diversity is an enriching and ennobling strength.
A former track star, Mayor Bradley sometimes spoke with pride about watching his friend and college football teammate, Jackie Robinson, play in his very first major league baseball game. His eyes would light up with the joy of that triumph -- and not just because he was talking about his wife Ethel's beloved Dodgers.
In many ways, Tom Bradley was the Jackie Robinson of public service -- making history through his quiet dignity, his iron determination, and his ability to walk through doors that opened to his insistent knock.
That, I believe, was the greatest gift he gave us: his belief in hope over despair, in striving over resignation, in faith over cynicism.
He made real the words of the scripture: "faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love."
I remember his personal warmth on the campaign trail in 1982. It was still there when I saw him at Kenny Hahn's funeral last year.
Even in recent months, when it had become difficult for him to speak, he would gather with friends and former staff members, and fill the entire room with his infectious laugh and spirit. I can still see that wonderful laugh -- his eyes nearly closed, his shoulders bouncing up and down with delight.
Ethel, can you believe that some people actually described Tom's public demeanor as stiff and wooden? Imagine being described that way!
That's not to say his early hardships had no impact on him. He once described how his family could not afford new shoes and socks, so he had to line his worn-out shoes with cardboard to make them last. When he got his first job with the LAPD, just about every time there was a sale downtown, he would stock up on socks -- until he realized he had about 200 pairs. Thankfully, he followed a much leaner approach when it came to the city budget.
Mayor Bradley never lost sight of the people he served. Some of you may remember when he was celebrated for settling the bus strike back in 1982. And some people asked: was he on the side of labor or management?
That was the wrong question. Of course, he was always a supporter of organized labor. But more to the point, he was on the side of the people who needed to ride the bus! That's the kind of Mayor he was.
He was called in righteousness. Without raising his voice, he brought justice for truth. Discouragement never knew his name. He never wearied in well-doing.
Above all, this servant-leader -- Tom Bradley -- loved his city, and he loved its people. "Los Angeles," he said, "gave life to my impossible dream." Today, we know that for the millions he lifted up and inspired, those dreams of opportunity didn't just become possible --they came true.
In the words of the poet:
"This man...visioning a world
On this day, as we gather around the grave of our fallen brother, we do so not merely to recite his many titles -- Mayor, healer, husband, father, leader -- but to testify to those livesgrown out of his life.
Let us carry the torch that he has lit for us. Here, surrounded by so many witnesses, let us heed the advice of the scripture, to "lay aside every weight...and...run with perseverance the race that is set before us."
Then "shall the Sun of righteousness arise with healing in his wings." Then shall we know that today, in the City of Angels, there is one more angel watching over us.
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