A century after CA officials took away a Black family’s beachfront property amid the Jim Crow era, they are giving it back.
- In 1924, Manhattan Beach officials forcefully seized a Black couple’s resort property after heavy resentment from white homeowners and KKK members.
- The beachfront area was a haven for African Americans, which angered white supremacists.
- Today, the property is estimated at $75M and could be given back to the family’s descendants within a year.
A little less than a hundred years ago, Black couple Charles and Willa Bruce were forced to give away their Manhattan Beach property. Back then, the scenic area was home to many African-American families and was filled with music and laughter.
— Now Mr. Pretty Tony….. (@goodkounsel) March 29, 2021
Unfortunately, all the cheerfulness was quickly seized by city officials enforcing racial segregation and harassment from white neighbors and the supremacist group Ku Klux Klan, as Upworthy notes.
However, even though it’s been a long time since then, Charles and Willa’s descendants are finally receiving the justice their family deserves. As per CNN, Los Angeles County officials have stated that the family is likely to be given back the beachfront resort property.
The beachfront resort property is currently estimated to be worth $75 million.
Back in 1912, the Bruces had purchased the estate for $1,225. Afterward, they renovated it and added a cafe and changing rooms. The area quickly became a safe haven for African-American families.
Bruce's Beach, CA.
Founded by Willa & Charles Bruce in 1912. They bought a Property and 3 Lots and started building.
Unfortunately, due to an attack by the KKK and Eminent Domain, the land was seized from the Bruce's.
It was renamed in 2007. pic.twitter.com/Kh9UhJSZUh
— Forbidden History (@ForbiddenHistry) July 26, 2020
Tragically, in 1924, city officials ruined the idyllic atmosphere for the Black community in the area by laying hands on the property. They seized it from the couple through eminent domain, paying them only a fraction of its cost. Sadly, the owners passed away just five years later.
County Supervisor Janice Hahn stated:
“The Bruces had their California dream stolen from them. Generations of their descendants almost certainly would have been millionaires if they had been able to keep their property and their successful business.”
This unfortunate chain of events was a result of the resentment of white homeowners regarding the popularity the resort gained amongst Black beachgoers. Their hostility grew to a point where white supremacists and Klan members put up “no trespassing” signs and slashed the tires of anyone near the area. They even tried to set the resort on fire, but they burned a nearby home instead.
After all these evil tactics failed, Manhattan Beach authorities decided to take the matter into their own hands. When they took away the property from Charles and Willa Bruce, they paid the couple only $14,125, which was nothing compared to the actual cost.
Today, the property functions as a park with a lawn, parking lot, and a lifeguard training facility.
In 1995, LA County became the official owner of the estate. At the time, officials were aware of the harrowing incident, but they refused to offer an apology. In a recent statement, the City Council said:
“The Manhattan Beach of today is not the Manhattan Beach of one hundred years ago. The community and population of the City of Manhattan Beach are loving, tolerant, and welcoming to all. We reject racism, hate, intolerance, and exclusion. Today’s residents are not responsible for the actions of others 100 years ago.”
•After Charles and Willa Bruce purchased their plot of land less than two miles from the Manhattan Beach shore line, the pair knew things in the neighborhood were about to change in 1912. pic.twitter.com/aVbOAqIIaq
— Justice For Bruce’s Beach (@JusticeForBruc1) February 3, 2021
At present, Black people hold less than 1% of the population in the region.
In the 1920s, after they were thrown away from their own property, the Bruces were forced to move to South LA. From eminent entrepreneurs, the Jim Crow era turned them into laborers. As per family spokesperson Duane Shepard, the couple suffered unbearable “physical, mental, social, and emotional stress.”
In July of 2018, 130 of the descendants and family members of Charles and Willa Bruce visited Bruce's Beach to commemorate the history and legacy of their family's beach resort. pic.twitter.com/TIKztrLFWM
— Ma$on (@FirstGentleman) February 17, 2020
After hearing of the plans for returning the property to the Bruces’ descendants, some residents expressed heavy resentment. During the county’s Friday news conference, one commented:
“I’ve been lucky enough to live in this beautiful spot for over 50 years. I’ve never been discriminated against by this community, but it hurts me that the people here are trying to spoil what we have here.”
Hearing the resident’s comment, Shepard responded:
“We love it just as much as you do. After the family was railroaded out of town, they lived in Los Angeles destitute and so, therefore, these people who did this to my family need to rectify it by any means, including apologize.”
Charles and Willa Bruce’s family could be given back the beachfront estate within a year.
To be able to return the property to Bruces’ descendants, the California state must pass a law that will essentially make it exempt from restrictions that limit the county’s ability to transfer it with ease. In case Governor Gavin Newsom approves, the family will have what once belonged to them by 2022.
“I am hopeful that the people in California will see the importance of trying to right this wrong.”
After we first reported it was being considered, Supervisor Janice Hahn announces LA County has begun the process of returning the beachfront property known as #BrucesBeach back to the last living direct descendant of Willa and Charles Bruce. @NBCLA pic.twitter.com/a9ARDKY35w
— Jonathan Gonzalez (@JonathanNBCLA) April 9, 2021
State Sen. Steven Bradford, a co-author of the legislation, added:
“Black-owned properties experienced tremendous amounts of hatred, harassment, hostility and violence at the hand of the Ku Klux Klan, who cold-bloodedly threatened the Bruces and other families who dared to enjoy their property.”