The family of Willa and Charles Bruce, the Black couple whose beachfront property was wrongly seized by local officials nearly a century ago, has agreed to sell the land back to Los Angeles County for nearly $20 million.
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 a Tweet on Tuesday, the chairperson of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, Janice Hahn, announced that the Bruce family “has informed the County of Los Angeles that they have decided to sell the Bruce’s Beach property back to the County for nearly $20 million.” Hahn said the agreed amount is the estimated value of the property.
“This fight has always been about what is best for the family, and they feel what is best for them is selling this property and finally rebuilding the generational wealth they were denied for nearly a century,” Hahn reported.
The property in question spans 7,000 square feet (650 square meters). The announcement of the purchase also comes after the property’s deed was transferred to Bruce’s family in July. 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.
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 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.
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 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.”
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.