Gilbert H. Bradley Jr.

Kalamazoo's First African American Mayor

“Gil has something unique to offer our community. During his ten years as a resident of Kalamazoo, he has been a student, factory worker, union member, teacher, social worker, and a small businessman. These experiences have given Gill first hand insight into the needs and aspirations of a broad range of people who make up our community. This type of insight is necessary if one is to represent the entire community”–from a candidate brochure, 1971

Campaign flyer, c.1971

Gilbert H. Bradley Jr. holds the distinction of being Kalamazoo’s first African American mayor, serving from 1971 to 1973. He served as Vice-Mayor from 1969-1971. By the early 1970’s, a time period during which the push for civil rights remained a driving force for black and liberal voters, the election of Bradley signaled a shift toward toward younger, liberal voices inspired by the counter-culture movements. Grounded in a commitment to tackle issues connected to housing inequalities, educational opportunities, recreational programming, and services for seniors, Bradley’s short-lived time as mayor provided the city with a fresh, youthful voice, one that positioned poor and working class people at the heart of his agenda. Bradley’s victory ultimately paved the way for later black commissioners like Beverly Moore, Alexander Lipsey, Robert Jones, and Bobby Hopewell. The significance of his election during this four year period, where he captured more votes than most candidates running for commissioner, speaks to Bradley’s appeal and skill to capture support from across a wide swath of the city.

In 2018, the Kalamazoo Gazette emphasized the historical importance of his campaign by stating, “becoming mayor was even greater challenge than serving on the commission. Before recent changes to the City Charter, the highest vote-earner became mayor. That means Bradley was the second highest vote-earner in his first campaign, then earned the most votes in his second election. At 31 years old, he topped a slate of 19 candidates for seven seats.” (KG, 5-31-18)

Bradley attributed some of his ability to empathize and connect with a wide range of voters to his work ethic, one he learned from his auto factory-worker father. “I feel I learned more about people, about life and about myself in my 1 1/4 years at the meat plant than I did in all my years at college.” (KG, 11-23-69) Bradley was also an accomplished public speaker and debater, having been chosen Ferris State College’s speech champion.

Campaign flyer, c. 1969

Bradley resigned from his job as director of the city’s human services department in 1978, and moved to Alexandria, Virginia to serve as a social services director. In the mid-1980’s he merged his religious interests to his social work background when he enrolled in Howard University’s divinity program. While in Virginia, Bradley served as pastor for two churches. He later moved back to Michigan in 2004. Bradley died at the age of 77 at Elkhart Memorial Hospital in Indiana in May of 2018.


Article written by Ryan Gage, Kalamazoo Public Library staff, May 2022

Sources
Articles

“Dad’s Lesson Helped Vice Mayor Into Public Life”

Kalamazoo Gazette, 23 November, 1969

“Bradley Still Serving the People”

Kalamazoo Gazette, 12 May, 1985

“Obituary”

Kalamazoo Gazette, 29 May, 2018


Local History Room Files

Name File: Bradley, Gilbert H., Jr.

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