California governor signs bill to return beachfront land seized from Black owners back to descendants

Manhattan Beached seized the land from Willa and Charles Bruce in 1924

Graeme Massie
Los Angeles
Thursday 30 September 2021 21:35
Comments
<p>People relax at Bruce's Beach park, above a Los Angeles County Fire Department Lifeguard station on April 20, 2021 in Manhattan Beach, California</p>

People relax at Bruce's Beach park, above a Los Angeles County Fire Department Lifeguard station on April 20, 2021 in Manhattan Beach, California

Leer en Español

California’s governor has signed a bill that clears the way for a valuable parcel of beachfront land near Los Angeles to be returned to the descendants of a Black family who had it seized nearly 100 years ago.

The move by Gavin Newsom allows Los Angeles County to return the Bruce’s Beach property in Manhattan Beach, which was taken from Willa and Charles Bruce under eminent domain by the city in 1924.

“I want to apologise to the Bruce family,” said Mr Newsom as he put his signature on the paperwork that will sign the transfer of ownership into law.

The parcel of land, which faces directly onto the Pacific, has been used as a public park and could be worth as much as $75m.

The Bruce family bought the land in 1912 for $1,225 and created a beach resort popular with Black families who wanted to enjoy a trip to the beach.

The resort included a bath house, a cafe and a dance hall, but quickly became a target of racist opposition and even a 1920 attack by the Ku Klux Klan.

The city, under pressure from its white residents, condemned the property, and other Black-owned parcels around it, and seized it with the stated goal of building a park.

The resort was forced out of business and the Bruce family lost their land in 1929, but the land remained undeveloped for decades and was transferred to the state in 1948 and the county in 1995.

Current state law requires Los Angeles County to use Bruce’s Beach for public recreation and bans the county from transferring it, but Senate bILL 796 signed by Mr Newsom scraps those restrictions.

The California Legislature gave its final approval to the measure earlier this month.

“The land in the City of Manhattan Beach, which was wrongfully taken from Willa and Charles Bruce, should be returned to their living descendants and it is in the public interest of the State of California, the County of Los Angeles, the City of Manhattan Beach, and the People of the State of California to do so,” the bill states.

State Senator Steven Bradford, who authored the bill, welcomed the governor’s signature on it.

“I’m honored for this governor to have the courage to do the right thing,” said Mr Bradford at Thursday’s outdoor signing at Bruce’s Beach.

“If you can inherit generational wealth, you can inherit generational debt. The city of Manhattan Beach owes a debt to the Bruce family.

“The state of California owes a debt to the Bruce family, and the county of Los Angeles owes a debt to the Bruce family, and our governor today is here to fix his signature to this bill to pay that debt to the Bruce family.”

After Mr Newsom signed the bill, he handed his pen to Anthony Bruce, whose great-great grandparents had once owned the land.

“As Governor of California, let me do what apparently Manhattan Beach is unwilling to do: I want to apologise to the Bruce family,” said Mr Newsom

And he added: “I really believe this can be catalytic. What we’re doing here today can be done and replicated anywhere else. There’s an old adage: Once a mind is stretched it never goes back to its original form.”

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged in