Bruce’s Beach descendants could get back land forcefully taken from their family almost 100 years ago

Francis Akhalbey March 03, 2021
The city of Manhattan Beach forcefully took the property away from its African-American owners, Willa and Charles Bruce -- Photo Credit: ChildofMidnight

The Los Angeles County has announced it is exploring the possibility of returning the land where Bruce’s Beach was once situated to the living descendants of the family. The announcement comes almost a century after the city of Manhattan Beach forcefully took the property away from its African-American owners, Willa and Charles Bruce, NBC4 reported.

Bruce’s Beach was opened by the couple during the segregation era to afford Black Los Angeles residents the opportunity to be able 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. The council took over the property through eminent domain.

“The property that was once the Bruce’s is now owned by the County and I want LA County to be part of righting this wrong,” LA County Supervisor, Janice Hahn, said in a statement. “I am looking at everything from repurposing the property in a way that tells the history of Bruce’s Beach to actually giving the property back to the descendants of Charles and Willa Bruce.”

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 the news outlet. “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 in 1924. The Bruce’s and the other Black owners who lost their properties also received little compensation.

“In the early 1920s, there a couple of white citizens here who have gotten upset, and they’re feeling like there’s a Negro invasion,” Jefferson said. “Eminent domain proceedings were implemented to get the Black people out of here.”

The land where the beach once stood is now the site of a lifeguard headquarters, NBC4 reported. Though a park around the beach was renamed “Bruce’s Beach” in the 2000s, a section of people registered their displeasure with a commemoratory plaque that had been mounted, arguing the information on it was wrong.

“The first thing we need to get right is the information about the plaque. We need to make sure the plaque tells the exact story about what happened,” Anthony Bruce, the last living direct descendent of the couple told the news outlet. “That was our property. And they removed it with eminent domain, which was pretty much like using the law to pretty much commit a crime.”

In the wake of the aforementioned protests and demands, a 15-member task force was set up to look into righting those wrongs. The task force will officially submit its recommendations with regards to the future of the land to the city council later in the year. And though the Bruce family and other people have complained about the task force not having enough Black members, Ward and Anthony Bruce told NBC4 that the county announcing they’re looking at returning the land to its rightful owners is good news.

“Remember, this is the entrepreneur family of the Bruce’s here. So if we don’t get the money, all we need is the land back anyway,” Bruce said. “In the U.S. Declaration of Independence, we know that all men are created equal, so that’s what we’re looking for. We’re just looking for justice for our family.”

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: March 4, 2021


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