LA board of supervisors votes to return land to black family
The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously on Tuesday to return Bruce’s Beach to the black family who owned it until it was unfairly seized by California 98 years ago. The move marks one of the biggest cases of land reparations in US history.
Brothers Marcus and Derrick, along with Derrick’s sons Anthony and Michael, will now inherit the piece of prime beachfront land worth hundreds of millions of dollars. The brother’s great grandparents, Charles and Willa Bruce (pictured), bought the land in 1912 and built a resort for black families that became known as Bruce’s Beach. The resort thrived despite racist pressure from neighbors, local government and an attack from the Ku Klux Klan in 1920.
But in 1924, the family was forced out when the City of Manhattan Beach used eminent domain to seize the land under the pretense of building a public park. In a statement on Tuesday’s vote, County Chair Holly Mitchell said that the Bruce family were ‘robbed of their property and generational wealth due to unjust laws and practices rooted in systemic racism.’ The board heard that Anthony will maintain the property along with his father through an LLC that the family has formed.
According to the motion, the land will be leased back to the county for two years from the Bruce family. The family will received $413,000 in rent. After the two year lease is up, the Bruce family is free to do whatever they please with the land. The new motion also has a clause allowing the country to buy back the land from the Bruce family for $20 million. Pictured: County Chair Holly Mitchell signs the transfer agreement on behalf of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors transferring ownership of the land to the Bruce family.
In February 2022, the Los Angeles Times quoted that the estimated price of the land parcels that belonged to the Bruce family were now worth an estimated $75 million. According to the motion, the $20 million price tag was ‘confirmed by appraisals to be equivalent to or less than the fair market value.’ Mitchell rejected the notion that the county was ‘giving’ the property to the family. She said: ‘We are returning property that was erroneously, and based on fear and hate, taken from them.’ Pictured: An aerial view of Bruces Beach.
The area of land in affluent Manhattan Beach on the outskirts of Los Angeles was a ‘refuge for Black families who came from across the state when racist laws wouldn’t allow for any other safe beach going options,’ Mitchell said in her statement. While County Supervisor Janice Hahn said: ‘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.’ Hahn said in her statement that Tuesday’s vote will give the Bruce family the chance ‘to start rebuilding the generational wealth that was denied to them.’ The plot currently serves as a grassy park and lifeguard training facility.
Average property prices in Manhattan Beach run to $2.9 million, with the area sitting south of Santa Monica Bay. In September 2021, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed Senate Bill 796 into law. This removed any restrictions in returning the law of the board of supervisors voted to do so. Also that month the city of Manhattan Beach issued a statement acknowledging and condemning its city’s actions from the early 20th century – but the statement stopped short of a formal apology. ‘We offer this Acknowledgement and Condemnation as a foundational act for Manhattan Beach’s next one hundred years,’ a document approved by the council says. ‘And the actions we will take together, to the best of our abilities, in deeds and in words, to reject prejudice and hate and promote respect and inclusion.’ Pictured: Anthony Bruce as Governor Gavin Newsom signs SB 796, a bill allowing the return Manhattan Beach land to descendants of its original owners.
In signing Senate Bill 796, Newsom offered a formal apology to the Bruce family. He said: ‘As governor of California, let me do what apparently Manhattan Beach is unwilling to do: I want to apologize to the Bruce family.’ The governor added: ‘What we’re doing here today can be done and replicated anywhere else. There’s an old adage: Once a mind is stretched, it never goes back to its original form.’ Anthony Bruce, a security supervisor who lives in Florida, said his family had been tormented by the seizure of their rightful property for generations. Pictured: The historic plaque commemorating Bruce’s Beach.
Instead of continuing to run a thriving resort on prime beachfront land, they ended up as chefs serving other business owners for the remainder of their lives. Bruce’s 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,’ he said. Bruce’s father was unable to bear living in California and moved away from the state. ‘I was five years old when my father told me that my great-great-grandparents’ business on a beautiful stretch of Manhattan Beach had been taken away from them decades earlier,’ wrote Bruce, in an op ed in The Los Angeles Times, published on Thursday. Pictured: Beach goers in the 1920s.
‘It was a shocking and disturbing revelation for me as a young boy,’ he said. ‘When I was growing up, my father took us to Bruce’s beach,’ Anthony added in an April interview with BNC News. ‘It wasn’t called that back then, it was called another name and he said ‘all this land is yours. I want you to know that this is your inheritance and you’re going to have to fight for it. As it stands its not ours, but as it is its our legacy.”’ The case was championed by Kavon Ward, an activist who learnt about the land’s history and founded Justice for Bruce’s Beach. ‘This country always likes to say: ‘You can make it. Just pull yourself up by your bootstraps,” she said. Pictured: Beach goers in the 1920s.
‘These people were doing that, and they were building community and spreading the wealth within the community and enhancing other black people, and it was all stripped away.’ Anthony Bruce (pictured) said in the op ed: ‘I’ll never know if my family’s business would have grown to rival that of Hilton or Marriott, both of which were founded around the same time as Bruce’s Beach and grew from equally humble beginnings. ‘I have plans to one day soon return to my family’s land. When I go back to that stretch of Manhattan Beach, I won’t think only of the injustice done to my ancestors. I’ll also think of the progress our country has made.’
The property along the south shore of Santa Monica Bay encompasses two parcels purchased in 1912 by Willa and Charles Bruce, who built the first West Coast resort for black people at a time when segregation barred them from many beaches. It included a lodge, cafe, dance hall and dressing tents. The land lay unused for years, however, and was transferred to the state in 1948. In 1995, it was transferred to Los Angeles County for beach operations. It came with restrictions limiting the ability to sell or transfer the property, which could only be lifted through a new state law. The county’s lifeguard training headquarters building sits there now, along a scenic beach walkway called The Strand that is lined with luxury homes overlooking the beach. Pictured: Gavin Newsom shaking Anthony’s hand after authorizing the return of Bruce’s Beach.
In Manhattan Beach, an upscale Los Angeles seaside suburb, the population of 35,000 is more than 84 per cent white and 0.8 per cent black, the city website says. In 2021, the city council formally condemned the efforts of their early 20th century predecessors to displace the Bruces and several other Black families. Should the Bruce family decide to sell the property, Senate bill 796’s wording would exempt them from a documentary transfer tax, and would shield profits made from the land’s scale from taxation. ‘Plans for the property… [are] personal and between us, the attorneys, and the County of Los Angeles,’ said Duane Shepard, a cousin of the direct descendants of the property and a long-standing spokesman for the reacquisition of the beach.