What was known as Bruce’s Beach in the city of Manhattan Beach was purchased in 1912 by Willa and Charles Bruce, who created the first West Coast resort for Black people during an era when racial segregation barred them from many beaches.
California lawmakers have unanimously moved a resolution to allow the return of the prime beachfront property to descendants of a Black couple who were stripped of their resort for African Americans amid racist harassment a century ago.
“I’m ecstatic,” said Kevon Ward, who started a movement to return the land to the Bruce family. “I never would have fathomed that this would have happened so quickly. I was prepared to fight for years if not decades.”
The resort included a lodge, cafe, dance hall, and dressing tents with bathing suits for rent.
The family’s vision of Bruce’s Beach had been to build a coastal oasis where Black families could swim and mingle without being targeted or harassed. Willa Bruce ran the popular cafe and entertainment offerings while her husband worked as a chef on a train dining car. They purchased the land for $1,225. Officials had previously estimated that the property as worth US$75 million.
“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,” Los Angeles County Supervisor Janice Hahn said in April when the county announced plans to return the property.
But the Ku Klux Klan tried to burn it down, and white neighbors harassed the couple and their customers. Bogus “10 minutes only” parking signs were posted and beachgoers often returned to find the air had been let out of their tires, according to a legislative analysis.
Manhattan Beach used eminent domain to seize the land in 1924, ostensibly for use as a park.
Instead, the property languished until it was transferred to the state in 1948, then transferred to Los Angeles County in 1995.
It will take the state law that legislators sent to Gov. Gavin Newsom to transfer Bruce’s Beach property to the couple’s descendants. The transfer would also have to be approved by county supervisors.
“They are setting precedent for policies to be changed, antiquated policies that are creating barriers for people to seek restitution,” Ward said.
Senator Steven Bradford, the democrat, said the bill will finally do the right thing, to undo a wrong committed by the city of Manhattan Beach and aided by the state and the county.”
It “represents economic and historic justice and is a model of what reparations can truly look like,” he said.