Indiana Daily Student

Black Voices: California beach property returned to descendants of Black family

<p>Almost a century ago, the city of Manhattan Beach seized the properties that make up the park known today as Bruce’s Beach. The deed of the property was returned  to Marcus and Derrick Bruce, the great-grandsons of the original owners, by Los Angeles County officials July 20, 2022. </p><p><br/><br/></p>

Almost a century ago, the city of Manhattan Beach seized the properties that make up the park known today as Bruce’s Beach. The deed of the property was returned to Marcus and Derrick Bruce, the great-grandsons of the original owners, by Los Angeles County officials July 20, 2022.



A Black-owned beach in California that Black people could visit during segregation was seized by white local officials through eminent domain in the 1920s. This action enforced segregation and turned the once lively area into vacancy. It was only a few weeks ago that the property was returned to the descendants of the owners.

Bruce’s Beach was established in 1912 in Manhattan Beach, California, when it was purchased by Charles and Willa Bruce. It was the only beach resort in Southern California that welcomed Black people at the time. 

The Los Angeles Times reported that the resort created agitation among white property owners nearby. They were open about their disgust toward the integration. 

“Property owners of the Caucasian race who have property surrounding the new resort deplore the state of affairs,” the Times said. 

Willa Bruce insisted that, as the owner of the land, they were going to keep it, which encouraged other Black families to build summer houses and vacation to the resort. White families threatened and harassed them, and the city of Manhattan Beach took the land.

The Bruce family did not want to give up their land and community, but the city went through proceedings to ensure they had no choice. They claimed the land through eminent domain and the courts allowed them to seize the property by 1929. 

This could have been prevented had the courts been more critical of the proceedings and eminent domain, meaning the land can only be taken if the intent is to use it for a public purpose. The city claimed that they were planning to develop a park in order to legally take the land. 

Instead, the buildings were torn down and the property ignored for years. 

The beach was deeded to California in the 1940s, and then to Los Angeles County in 1995. It wasn’t until last year that the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to give the land back. 

A ceremony was held on Wednesday, July 20. Los Angeles County officials returned the deed of the property to Marcus and Derrick Bruce, the great-grandsons of the owners. 

Kavon Ward, a community activist, led the effort to return the land with Justice for Bruce’s Beach. They are a community grassroots organization that fought for reparations for the Bruce family. 

“This is one win, but we deserve more wins,” Ward told Al Jazeera. “And I’m going to help all the Black families that I can try to reclaim the land that was stolen from them.” 

Eminent domain has always allowed the destruction of lives. In 1941, the federal government took 27 acres of land in Arlington, Virginia to build a road network around the Pentagon, according to the Arlington Historical Society. The land housed Black families and had more than 900 residents. An entire community lost can never be compensated enough. 

Bruce family member Chief Duane Yellow Feather Shepard says this is a “first step” in getting justice. 

“We have the blueprint for how to get something like this done against a city and state, or possibly the United States government, for some of these atrocities that happened to our people,” he said. “I hope young people are really paying attention. It is now time for us to stand up and speak out.” 

This means demanding the systemic issues that allowed this to happen in the first place be fixed. The vague guidelines of eminent domain should no longer be allowed to destroy lives. There are changes needed before proper reparations can be made. 

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