California moves to return beach seized from Black couple

Manhattan Beach
Posted at 3:00 PM, Sep 10, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-10 18:00:06-04

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California lawmakers are unanimously moving to allow the return of prime beachfront property to descendants of a Black couple who were stripped of their resort for African Americans amid racist harassment a century ago.

The state Senate on Thursday approved Senate Bill 796, which would authorize the county to return property known as Bruce's Beach to the Bruce family.

The public seizure of the Bruce's Beach property has long stained the history of Manhattan Beach, particularly in the past year amid a nationwide reckoning on racial injustice.

Willa and Charles Bruce built the first West Coast resort for Black people during an era when racial segregation barred them from many beaches.

Complete with a bath house, dance hall and cafe, the resort attracted other Black families who purchased adjacent land and created what they hoped would be a ocean-view retreat. But the Ku Klux Klan tried to burn it down, and white neighbors harassed the couple and their customers.

A Los Angeles County city used eminent domain to seize the land in 1924, ostensibly for use as a park.

Despite the city claiming the land was needed for a city park, the property sat vacant for decades. It was not until 1960 that a park was built on a portion of the seized land, with city officials fearing the evicted families could take new legal action if the property wasn't used for the purpose for which it was seized.

The exact parcel of land the Bruces owned was transferred to the state, and then to the county in 1995. But it was not until 2006 that the city agreed to rename the park "Bruce's Beach" in honor of the evicted family.

While the state legislation is required to make the transfer to the family, more action on a local level will still be required.

The county's CEO's Office and Anti-Racism, Diversity and Inclusion Initiative is expected to report back to the Board of Supervisors this fall with further details, after evaluating the impacts of the property transfer. The plan did not provide a date by which the land would need to formally be transferred.

City News Service contributed to this report.