Jul 21, 2022 - Politics & Policy

California beachfront taken from Black couple officially returned to family

Anthony Bruce, a descendant of the Roaring 20's owners, holds up the beach deed during yesterday's ceremony.

Anthony Bruce, a descendant of the Roaring '20s owners, holds up the beach deed during Wednesday's ceremony. Photo: Christina House/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Los Angeles County made amends for a century-old racial injustice on Wednesday. The deed to beachfront property — taken from an African American couple that ran a thriving resort there in 1924 — was ceremoniously returned to their heirs, Reuters reports.

Why it matters: Dignitaries at a ceremony in Manhattan Beach called the return of government land unjustly acquired from Black citizens unprecedented in the U.S. — and a model for other jurisdictions.

What happened: Bruce's Beach — 7,000 square feet of prime real estate — had been a resort where Black people gathered and enjoyed the beach in the segregated L.A. County of the early 20th century.

  • "While her husband, Charles [Bruce], worked as a dining-car chef on the train running between Salt Lake City and Los Angeles, Willa ran a popular lodge, cafe and dance hall — providing Black families a way to enjoy a weekend on the coast," the L.A. Times reported in 2020.

In 1924, Manhattan Beach officials, ostensibly claiming eminent domain to build a park, forced out the Bruces. Over decades, the land was transferred to the state and then the county.

  • Activists and politicians determined the real motivation for eminent domain was racism. A state law was passed last year to approve returning the land to the Bruces' heirs.

The property now belongs to Marcus and Derrick Bruce, great-grandsons of Willa and Charles Bruce, who said they'll share the proceeds with their extended family.

  • Derrick Bruce attended Wednesday's ceremony along with his son, Anthony Bruce, who'll manage the property, which houses a lifeguard training facility. L.A. County will lease the land for $413,000 per year.
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