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  • A Black Beach In LA Stolen From its people - The History Of Bruce's Beach

A Black Beach In LA Stolen From its people - The History Of Bruce's Beach

In the heart of Manhattan Beach, California, lies a stretch of land that holds a painful history - Bruce's Beach. Once a thriving Black-owned seaside resort, it was unjustly taken from its original owners, Charles and Willa Bruce, in a racially motivated act. For over a century, their descendants fought tirelessly to reclaim their family's legacy, and finally, on July 20, 2022, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors returned ownership of Bruce's Beach to the closest living legal heirs of Charles and Willa Bruce

In the early 20th century, like many African Americans, Charles and Willa Bruce moved west as part of the Great Migration, searching for opportunities and the promise of the California and American Dream. In 1912 and 1920, they purchased two lots of land along the Strand in Manhattan Beach, California, turning the location into a beloved seaside resort known as Bruce's Lodge, colloquially referred to as Bruce's Beach

As Bruce's Beach gained popularity among Black beachgoers, it faced hostility and racism from the predominantly white community. White residents of the

surrounding area reacted with disdain towards the success of the Black-owned resort, leading to a series of discriminatory actions 2 .

 In 1924, prompted by local white real estate agents and citizens, the Manhattan Beach City Council voted to condemn the Bruce's resort site and the surrounding land through eminent domain. The real motive behind this act was rooted in racism, aiming to extinguish the success of the Black-owned business and prevent other African Americans from settling or establishing businesses in Manhattan Beach 2 .

City ordinances were enacted, prohibiting dressing or undressing in vehicles, public places, or tents, and parking restrictions were implemented to harass and prevent African American visitation to the shoreline area of Bruce's Beach. Moreover, the Council passed laws prohibiting resort-type businesses in the area, effectively preventing the Bruce family and other Black families from purchasing additional beachfront property for similar purposes

The condemnation of the land not only robbed the Bruce family of their property but also thwarted the dreams of future generations. In 1929, the court validated the City of Manhattan Beach's claim to the property through eminent domain, finalizing the financial settlement for the land. The Bruce family was forced to move out of Manhattan Beach in 1927, and the city promptly demolished the Bruce's Beach resort before the land value question was settled in 1929 2 .

 For almost three decades, the land remained vacant, and it was not until 1956 that the City of Manhattan Beach finally built a park on the site. However, it was only in 2007, driven by the efforts of Manhattan Beach's first Black councilmember and mayor, Mitch Ward, that the park was renamed Bruce's Beach in recognition of its historical significance

Through a series of land transfers between the City of Manhattan Beach, the State of California, and the County of Los Angeles, the County acquired the land that originally belonged to Charles and Willa Bruce in 1995. This acquisition presented an opportunity for the County to rectify the historic injustice done to the Bruce family by returning the ownership of the land to its rightful heirs

In April 2021, Los Angeles County Supervisors Janice Hahn and Holly Mitchell announced their intention to have Los Angeles County return the beachfront property to the legal heirs of Charles and Willa Bruce. This announcement marked the beginning of a year-long process to restore justice to the Bruce family 2 .

 To facilitate the restitution, the L.A. County Board of Supervisors initiated the Anti-Racism, Diversity, and Inclusion (ARDI) Initiative and sponsored Senate Bill 796, which aimed to lift state restrictions on the return of the land. These legislative efforts were crucial steps towards rectifying the historic wrong committed against the Bruce family and their legacy

The County of Los Angeles retained the law firm of Hinojosa & Forer LLP and forensic genealogists American Research Bureau to identify the closest living heirs of Charles and Willa Bruce. After an extensive confirmation process, it was determined that the great-grandsons of Charles and Willa Bruce were the rightful heirs to the property. Claimants who participated in the County's legal heir determination process were notified of the County's determination and given an opportunity to provide additional evidence if they believed the determination was incorrect

After a series of legal proceedings and thorough deliberation, the L.A. County Board of Supervisors approved the transfer of ownership of Bruce's Beach to the Bruce family on June 28, 2022. This monumental decision marked a significant milestone in the fight for restorative justice and the recognition of the historical significance of Bruce's Beach 2 .

 The County will pay a yearly lease for the use of the land, and the Bruce family now has the opportunity to participate in the California and American Dream that their great-grandparents sought out a century ago. The County's action represents an important step in righting the historic wrong committed against the Bruce family

The return of Bruce's Beach to its rightful owners is not only a symbolic victory but also a significant step towards restorative justice. It acknowledges the historic injustice committed against the Bruce family and recognizes the need to rectify the wrongs of the past. Restitution allows the descendants of the historical visitors to Bruce's Beach to reclaim their connection to the California coastline and ensures that they have access to enjoy it for generations to come

While the return of Bruce's Beach is a crucial milestone, there is still work to be done to create opportunities for the descendants of its original visitors. Efforts should focus on ensuring that the Bruce family and the broader community have access to resources, support, and opportunities to thrive economically and socially. By addressing the systemic barriers that have hindered progress, the legacy of Bruce's Beach can serve as a catalyst for positive change and empowerment

The story of Bruce's Beach serves as a poignant reminder of the persistent struggles faced by marginalized communities throughout history. It highlights the importance of acknowledging and rectifying past injustices, promoting inclusivity, and fostering a society where everyone has equal opportunities to succeed. By learning from the mistakes of the past, we can build a more equitable future for all

The return of Bruce's Beach to the closest living legal heirs of Charles and Willa Bruce stands as a testament to the power of perseverance, community mobilization, and the pursuit of justice. The efforts of the Bruce family and the wider community have brought attention to a historic wrong and have set a precedent for restorative justice in the face of racial discrimination.

The journey to rectify the injustice done to Bruce's Beach serves as a reminder of the work still needed to address the systemic barriers that have hindered progress for marginalized communities. By recognizing and addressing these barriers, we can create a more inclusive and equitable society, where the mistakes of the past are not repeated, and the rights of all individuals are respected and protected.

"The fraudulent appropriation of land from private persons, especially on the basis of race, is against the public interest and denies individuals and communities the right to enjoyment, the right to own property, and the right to control one's property." - County of Los Angeles 2

Through restitution and the ongoing pursuit of justice, Bruce's Beach can become a symbol of resilience, hope, and the triumph of the human spirit. It stands as a testament to the power of community, the importance of acknowledging past wrongs, and the potential for a more equitable future

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