The Bruce family owned an African-American beach resort in Los Angeles County in the early 1900s — but the state stripped the land from them with policies motivated by racism. Now, the family’s descendants are getting their land back.
The California dream
In the early 1900s, Charles and Willa Bruce, along with their son Harvey, moved from New Mexico to what’s become Manhattan Beach in Los Angeles County.
In 1912, they opened up a beach resort — a place where African Americans like them could enjoy the sun, party in the dance hall, sip a coffee at the café, and rent bathing suits while segregation policies prohibited them from other beaches.
“Bruce’s Beach became a place where black families traveled from far and wide to be able to enjoy the simple pleasure of a day at the beach,” said Janice Hahn, a member of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors at a press conference, according to the Daily Mail.
The state took their land away
But the Bruces faced harassment by white neighbors and attacks from the Ku Klux Klan who nearly burned their property down.
Then in 1924, discrimination came from the state itself as the Bruces were stripped of their land, with the government excavating the land for park use. The Bruces were paid $14,500 in compensation at the time, but could have easily been millionaires today.
“The Bruces had their California dream stolen from them,” said Hahn. “And this was an injustice inflicted not just upon Willa and Charles Bruce but generations of their descendants who almost certainly would have been millionaires if they had been able to keep this property and their successful business.”
“I just want justice for my family,” said Anthony Bruce, a descendant of the Bruces who lives in Florida, to The New York Times.
“We’ve been stripped of any type of legacy, and we’re not the only family that this has happened to,” added Duane Yellow Feather Shepard, a relative of the Bruces and chief of the Pocasset Wampanoag Tribe of the Pokanoket Nation. “It’s happened all over the United States.”
The Bruces are getting their land back
After fighting for their property in court (and losing in the 1920s), the land has changed hands among different governing legislations a few times, but it’s now known as Bruce Beach (named after the family in 2006) and hosts a lifeguard training headquarters. But soon, it could be back in the hands of the Bruce family.
“It is the county’s intention to return this property,” Hahn announced on April 9.
“After so many years we will right this injustice,” added State Senator Steven Bradford at the press conference.
The Bruce family hasn’t decided whether it’ll take the land back or lease it back to the government for public use. If they do take it back, the value of the property is unknown, but there are homes worth $20 million on that strip of beach and one blog has estimated the land itself could be worth $72 million.
A step towards justice
It should be no surprise to Americans that racist policies like these, or redlining, which helped segregate America, led some to have wealth and property, and others to be left without. America needs to have a serious conversation about reparations, and while this ruling is not a full win — we cannot give the original owners of Bruce Beach their land back — it’s a step in the right direction towards doing what’s right.
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