Willa and Charles Bruce built Bruce’s Beach into a haven for Black citizens when they first held the property, but in 1924, local officials used a loophole to take the site away from them.
Black families from Los Angeles County commonly traveled to Bruce’s Beach in the 1910s and 1920s; it was a section of Manhattan Beach owned by Willa and Charles Bruce, two Black people. The farm belonged to the Bruces until the county confiscated it in 1924; it has been returned to the Bruces’ heirs.
According to the BBC, Anthony Bruce, a great-great grandson of Willa and Charles Bruce, remarked, “This is a day we weren’t sure would ever come.” “It ruined them financially,” he continued. Their opportunity to live the American Dream was destroyed. They ought to be able to witness what took place today. According to LAist, Willa and Charles planned to run a resort for Black people when they bought the oceanfront property in 1912. In that year, Willa told the Los Angeles Times, “Everywhere we have tried to buy land for a beach resort, we have been refused.” But I own this land, and I intend to keep it, he said.
Willa and Charles quickly transformed the property into the resort of their dreams, renting towels and bathing suits to visitors and offering snacks, but white neighbors were enraged about the beach from the start. The creation of a tiny summer resort for black people in North Manhattan in 1912, according to the same Los Angeles Times article, “has greatly agitated the white landowners of adjacent property.”In fact, Black beachgoers were discouraged by local police and property owners. The BBC said that they posted no trespassing signs on neighboring premises and set a 10-minute parking limit. Additionally, local politicians went much further in the 1920s.
The Bruces had faced intimidation from their neighbors, the police, and even the KKK, but in 1924, the Manhattan Beach Board of Trustees approved Ordinance 282, dealing the Bruces’ resort its final blow. The county was able to proceed with “purchase by condemnation for public park purposes” thanks to the ordinance, LAist reports.
They decided to use eminent domain to seize the Bruces’ property with the explicit intention of turning it into a public park. The Bruces demanded $50,000 in property damages in addition to $70,000 for their belongings.
The county acquired the site after making an offer of $14,500, and it remained vacant until the 1950s.Family member and spokesperson Chief Duane “Yellow Feather” Shepard told LAist that “they didn’t talk about that very much.” It’s quite upsetting, especially considering the acts of terrorism they endured at the hands of the KKK and the Manhattan Beach City Council.
I remember taking a ride through there when I was around six or seven years old. My mother pointed to a run-down vacant lot and mentioned that that was once Bruce family land. But the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors sought to rectify a 100-year-old wrong after Willa and Charles Bruce lost their beach. They all agreed to return the land to the Bruces’ lineage.Supervisor Janice Hahn told LAist that “we can’t alter the past.” The injustice done to Willa and Charles Bruce a century ago is something we will never be able to make up for. But this is a beginning.For the time being, the county will pay the Bruce family’s descendants $413,000 a year to lease the $20 million worth of land.
However, they can decide to sell the house later.”Our family was really robbed of this,” Anthony Bruce told LAist. “Hopefully, we’ll be able to receive some inheritance from that, the generational wealth.”He added to the BBC: “We think this is a step toward trying to correct the wrongs of the past, and we hope this opens people’s eyes to a part of American history that isn’t talked about enough.”