Return of Bruce’s Beach in CA to Descendants of Charles and Willa Bruce Receives Unanimous Approval from LA Board of Supervisors

[Photo: Anthony Bruce, the great-great-grandson of Charles and Willa Bruce, at Bruce’s Beach on Thursday. Photograph: Jay L Clendenin/Los Angeles Times/Rex/Shutterstock]

This week, in California, a case for reparations was finally won.

According to the Los Angeles Times, the Los Angeles Board of Supervisors voted their unanimous approval of the return of two oceanfront parcels unjustly taken by the government known as Bruce’s Beach to the descendants of former owners Charles and Willa Bruce.

Near the beginning of the 20th century, Charles and Willa Bruce made their way to California and purchased two lots in Manhattan Beach right by the sand and ran a popular lodge, cafe and dance hall for Black beachgoers.

A few more Black families, drawn to this new neighborhood that became known as Bruce’s Beach, bought and built their own cottages nearby. But they all soon were threatened by white neighbors and harassed by the local Ku Klux Klan.

When those attempts at intimidation failed, in 1924 city officials condemned the neighborhood and seized more than two dozen properties via eminent domain, claiming there was an urgent need for a public park. For decades, the properties sat empty.

The two oceanfront parcels that had been owned by the Bruces were transferred to the state in 1948, then to the county in 1995. The other lots were eventually turned into the park by city officials in Manhattan Beach.

To quote

In a heartfelt moment during the board meeting Tuesday, Supervisor Janice Hahn reflected on all the legal, legislative and very complicated real estate details that had to be worked out to right a wrong that had sparked a movement and captivated the country.

“We are finally here today,” said Hahn, who launched the complex process more than a year ago. “We can’t change the past, and we will never be able to make up for the injustice that was done to Willa and Charles Bruce a century ago. But this is a start, and it is the right thing to do.”

The property will now enter escrow before officially transferring to the Bruce family. After it’s transferred, the county has agreed to rent the property from the Bruces for $413,000 a year and will maintain its lifeguard facility there.

The lease agreement also includes a right for the county to purchase the land at a later date for $20 million, plus any associated transaction costs.

This unprecedented case of restorative justice to a Black family or property owners who were harassed by the KKK and run out of Manhattan Beach via racially-weaponized invocation of eminent domain almost a century ago — paves the way for more efforts by the government to rectify similar historic injustices.

[Wedding portrait of Charles Aaron and Willa A. Bruce.
California African American Museum]

To quote once more:

For Anthony Bruce, the great-great-grandson of Charles and Willa Bruce, the last two years have been a jumble of emotions.

What Manhattan Beach did almost a century ago tore his family apart. Charles and Willa ended up as chefs serving other business owners for the remainder of their lives. His grandfather Bernard, born a few years after his family had been run out of town, was obsessed with what happened and lived his life “extremely angry at the world.” Bruce’s father, tormented by this history, had to leave California.

Bruce, a security supervisor in Florida, was thrust into the spotlight after Bruce’s Beach became a national story. It has been painful for him to talk publicly about his family’s history, but he has been heartened to see the growing movement of people calling for justice.

“Many families across the United States have been forced away from their homes and lands,” he said. “I hope that these monumental events encourage such families to keep trusting and believing that they will one day have what they deserve. We hope that our country no longer accepts prejudice as an acceptable behavior, and we need to stand united against it, because it has no place in our society today.”

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