Bruce’s Beach Returned to Black Family, So What’s Next?

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Tina Samepay

With the stroke of a pen on September 30, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed SB 796 into law returning prime beachfront property in Manhattan Beach to the descendants of a black family that had it wrongfully been seized from nearly a century ago.

“As we move to remedy this nearly century-old injustice, California takes another step furthering our commitment to making the California Dream a reality for communities that were shamefully shut out by a history of racist exclusion,” Newsom said.

In 1912, Willa and Charles Bruce, bought two beachfront parcels for $1,225 and established a resort serving Black residents. After years of racist harassment and violence by white neighbors and the KKK, Manhattan Beach city officials ultimately seized the property through eminent domain in 1924.

Eventually, the land became property of Los Angeles County after transfers between Manhattan Beach and the State of California. 

In April, L.A. County Supervisors Holly Mitchell and Janice Hahn authored a motion to return the property to descendants of the Bruce Family. State Senator Steven Bradford (D-Gardena) then introduced SB 794 as the first step in returning Bruce’s Beach—now worth an estimated $75 million— to its rightful owners.

One month earlier, members of Manhattan Beach’s mostly white community had expressed disapproval of the city offering the Bruce family a public apology at a contentious city council meeting.

“Concerned Residents of MB” paid for two full-page advertisements fighting back against what they referred to as a “woke” mob,” arguing Manhattan Beach did not deserve to be tied to a legacy of racism.

On Manhattan Beach council member even said the Bruce’s had been reasonably compensated, failing to mention that only a fraction of what little compensation the family requested was paid.

But activists pushed back, determined to right the wrong.

“It was clear that this was wrong. The way it caught fire and people were attentive was very uplifting. We had a lot of support, said Patricia Bruce-Carter. 

“Even though there were a handful of prejudices, other than that for the most part, the process has been positive.”

Bruce-Carter was quick to add that in fighting for something of this magnitude, public support was critical.

“It felt good to know that you are not alone in trying to fight for what is right,” said Bruce-Carter in her appreciation for the group, Justice For Bruce’s Beach, and all the supporters who rallyied behind her family.

“Kevon Ward, who started the group Justice For Bruce’s Beach, was very instrumental with boots on the ground,” says Bruce-Carter. They were very, very active. I believe their presence is a strong reason we were able to have a victory.”

Ward, co-founder of Where is My Land, works with numerous families, who are also seeking rightful ownership of their families land and legacy.

Also playing a key role was Demarco Smith, an inspiring filmmaker and local historian who shared the story of Bruce’s Beach online through his research. 

It was Smith who uncovered that in 1924, while a member of the City Council, Frank Doherty voted to condemn the two blocks where Black businesses were beginning to thrive along the Beach’s shore.

In 1945, the then former Manhattan Beach City Councilmember wrote an article in the Redondo Reflex newspaper entitled, “The Negro Problem,” where he described the meanest thing he ever did. 

“There were several families in the blocks between 26th and 27th streets and between Strand and Highland,” Doherty wrote. “We had to acquire these two blocks to solve the problem, so we voted to condemn them and make a city park there. Our attorney advised members of the council never to admit the real purpose and establishment of the park, especially during the council meetings.”  

Smith says he feels joy for the family and the victory of Bruce’s Beach, should spark a movement to find all the evidence needed to bring forth reparations for African-Americans.

“L.A is one of the most segregated and economically divided cities in America, it’s good to know that no matter how hard they fought to get rid of Black families, what’s done in the dark will come to light.”

Anthony Bruce, who is the great-great-grandson of Charles and Wila Bruce, tells news outlets that his family is not “rushing back” to set up business in Manhattan Beach. 

In fact, according to L.A. County Supervisor Janice Hahn, the work is far from done. 

“Now that LA County officially has the authority to transfer this property, my goal these next several months will be to transfer this property in a way that not only works for the Bruce family, but is a model that other local governments can follow,” Hahn said. “Returning Bruce’s Beach can and should set a precedent for this nation and I know that all eyes will be on Los Angeles County as this work gets underway.”

The county is now working to confirm the rightful heirs of Willa and Charles Bruce. Once that is accomplished, they will determine through discussions if the Bruce heirs want the exact parcels on which the lifeguard training center sits, or would they accept two equivalent parcels in the same block. They also would now have the option of being the county’s landlords after determining how much rent the county would then have to pay them on the oceanfront property.

“It is never too late to address the injustices of the past,” said Senator Bradford. “As a member of the California Reparations Task Force, this is an example of what real reparations can look like.”


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