California Gov. Gavin Newsom has signed a bill that will clear the way to return stolen land at Bruce’s Beach to the descendants of a Black couple, Willa and Charles Bruce, who operated a beachfront business in Manhattan Beach nearly a century ago.
In the early 1920s, the Bruce family was pushed off their valuable property, stolen by eminent domain, and their property was turned into a park.
Earlier this month, the California Legislature unanimously approved a measure that will allow Los Angeles County to return the property to the descendants of Willa and Charles. The couple built and operated a thriving resort that catered to Black patrons since other public beaches were deemed for “whites only.”
Bruce family members were in attendance when Newsom signed the new law in the area where the Bruce’s resort had been located. The area had been known as Bruce’s Beach.
In 1924, the Manhattan Beach City Council used eminent domain, which some have called tricknology, to strip the Bruce family of their land to create a park.
Willa and Charles Bruce fought back and sued to keep their land, according to family members and historical records. They were awarded damages of $14,500. Adjusted for inflation, that wouldn’t amount to even $250,000 today, according to the New York Times.
The property was eventually transferred to the state of California.
Newsom addressed Anthony Bruce, the great-great-grandson of Willa and Charles and the heir to the property, who was present at the bill signing. “I’m proud, as a son of this state, proud as the governor of this state, of the most diverse state and the world’s most diverse democracy to be here, Anthony with you,” Newsom said.
Newsom added that the event was “for all of those families torn asunder because of racism all across this country and around the globe.”
“You got evidence of an entrepreneurial energy that was alive and well in this family, a persistence, a grit, a determination to make things happen,” Newsom said. “We’re here today to try to make up for (their loss).”
In the 1920s, the Bruce family endured hardship at the hands of some white residents of Manhattan Beach –– including members of the Ku Klux Klan –– who resented the resort and harassed Black visitors to deter them from coming.
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Land grabbing of Black-owned property was common throughout the U.S. in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, contributing to the racial wealth gap that exists today.
The call for the return of Bruce’s Beach attracted attention in 2020 — and got major pushback in the very white city of Manhattan Beach. To this day, Black residents make up less than 1 percent of the population. Some residents called for restitution. Others opposed returning the land, arguing that people today should not pay for injustices committed 100 years ago, The Los Angeles Times reported.