A bronze plaque, mounted at Manhattan’s Bruce’s Beach Park to commemorate the Black family whose beachfront property and resort was wrongly seized by local officials nearly a century ago, has been stolen.
According to NBC Los Angeles, the theft, which was announced by police on Tuesday, comes after the bronze plaque was mounted on the property in February. The plaque also sheds light on the land’s history and how it was wrongly seized from Willa and Charles Bruce.
As previously reported by Face2Face Africa, the city of Manhattan Beach, in 1924, forcefully took over the Black couple’s land under eminent domain (the right of a government or its agent to expropriate private property for public use, with payment of compensation).
In 2023, descendants of the Black couple sold the land back to Los Angeles County for nearly $20 million after officials returned the land to them the year prior. The campaign to give back ownership of the property to the Bruce family came amid strong calls for reparations to be paid to Black Americans who fell victim to exploitative developers during the period of segregation, Reuters reported.
Authorities are yet to make any arrests in connection with the theft of the plaque. “It’s a very tragic thing to have happened,” said Mayor Joe Franklin. “This plaque and this beach and this park have become a national touchstone for the issues of taking land from Black families.
“It created, really, a great sense of community, and that is partially lost because of what happened here.”
Before the property was wrongly seized, Bruce’s Beach was once a popular and thriving resort for Blacks. The resort was opened by the couple during the segregation era to afford Black Los Angeles residents the opportunity to also visit such places as they were barred from Whites-only beaches. The property was later seized by the city council amid calls from the area’s White residents to close it down.
Willa and Charles Bruce developed the property into a beach after initially purchasing a plot of land at the location in question for $1,225. As soon as the resort became operational, the owners and Black visitors were subjected to racial discrimination and harassment from agitated White residents.
“The first big weekend they had in 1912, the white folks put up barriers on the beach in front of the Bruces’ property so that they couldn’t get onto the shore and they had to walk a half-mile up the way to get to the beach,” Alison Rose Jefferson, a historian and author told NBC4. “They changed ordinances so there were only 1-hour parking signs around here, they slashed people’s tires at different times.”
Claiming they wanted to build a park, the city council ultimately took over the resort and other Black-owned properties around the area through eminent domain. The Bruces and the other Black owners who lost their properties also received little compensation.
In 2021, a state law was passed giving the green light for the property to be returned to the family of the original owners. That was after politicians and activists established racism played a factor when city officials took over the land under eminent domain.
The land where the beach once stood is now the site of a lifeguard headquarters. After the property was returned to the Bruce family, they reached a leasing agreement with the county where the latter agreed to pay them $413,000 annually. The county also retained the right to purchase the property.
Los Angeles County Supervisor Janice Hahn released a statement in response to the theft. Hahn played a pivotal role in returning the property to the Black couple’s descendants.
“I am sorry to hear that the Bruce’s Beach Park plaque was stolen and I know it opens up old wounds, especially for African Americans,” Hahn said. “I hope that the plaque’s theft is unrelated to the painful history of Bruce’s Beach and my decision to return the property to the Bruce family, and more related to the string of recent bronze thefts we have seen.”
The theft also comes amid reports of thieves stealing bronze and other metals in Southern California, NBC Los Angeles reported. Those metals have been targeted as a result of their soaring prices.