Posh Manhattan Beach sits on the south shore of California’s sparkling Santa Monica Bay. Today, it is prime beachfront land . . . with a tragic history. Now Los Angeles County leaders plan to return a slice of the pricey property to the descendants of those they took it from a century ago.
The acreage in question encompasses two parcels purchased in 1912 by Willa and Charles Bruce. At that time, segregation barred black people from many businesses, including public beaches. On their land, the Bruces built the first West Coast resort for black people. The property included a lodge, café, dance hall, and dressing tents with bathing suits for rent.
“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 District 4 Supervisor Janice Hahn says.
The enjoyment didn’t last long.
White neighbors harassed the Bruces and their customers. The Ku Klux Klan, a white supremacist hate group, attempted to burn the Bruces’ buildings down. Someone placed fake 10-minute parking signs along the road near the beach.
In the 1920s, the Manhattan Beach City Council used eminent domain (see Eminent Domain: Progress or Abuse of Power?) to take the land from the Bruces. The council said it wanted to turn it into a park.
“The Bruces had their California dream stolen from them,” says Hahn. “This was an injustice inflicted not just upon Willa and Charles Bruce but generations of their descendants.” She notes that those descendant “almost certainly would have been millionaires” if they had not lost the property and business.
The city council transferred Bruce’s Beach to the state of California in 1948. Later, city officials—who hadn’t actually built a park—fretted that Bruce family members might sue to reclaim their land. So the city finally created a small non-oceanfront park in the area. The park changed names several times before 2006, when the City Council voted to name it after the Bruces.
Today, Manhattan Beach includes some of the most coveted coastline in Southern California. With its scenic pier, luxury homes, and oceanfront walk, the real estate is among the most expensive in America.
The current City Council has condemned city leaders’ displacement of the Bruces and other black families in the 1920s. But state law limits the sale or transfer of the state-owned property.
Thanks to state Senator Steven Bradford, legislation is in the works to change the law. He says, “After so many years we will right this injustice.”
Whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them. —Matthew 7:12
Is it right to give Bruce’s Beach back to the Bruce descendants? How might owning a multi-million dollar property have changed the lives of the Bruces’ children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren?