LA County returns land worth $20m to Black family nearly 100 years after it was seized

Family built the first resort for the community on the land when beaches were segregated

<p>File: A monument on Bruce's Beach in Manhattan Beach </p>

File: A monument on Bruce's Beach in Manhattan Beach

A Los Angeles County commission voted unanimously on Tuesday to return a piece of oceanfront land to the Black family who owned a resort for the African American community until it was seized by California officials in the 1920s.

The board of supervisors voted 5-0 on a motion to complete the transfer of the area once known as Bruce’s Beach in the city of Manhattan Beach, which was later converted into the county’s lifeguard training headquarters and parking lot.

The heirs of Willa and Charles Bruce, who reportedly bought the land for $1,225 in 1912 and built the first West Coast resort for Black people when several beaches were segregated, will be handed over the ownership to the prime beachside property.

The family suffered racist harassment from their white neighbours and the land was taken from them in 1924 under the guise of eminent domain to build a park. The property was then transferred to the state of California in 1948.

Later in 1995, the state transferred it to the county and prohibited further transfers.

The LA County in May completed its process of confirming Marcus and Derrick Bruce, the great-grandsons of Willa and Charles Bruce, to be the legal heirs to the property now estimated to be worth up to $20m.

“My great-great-grandparents, Willa and Charles Bruce sacrificed to open a business that gave Black people a place to gather and socialize, and Manhattan Beach took it from them because of the colour of their skin,” Anthony Bruce, a family spokesman, said in a statement.

Bruce's Beach resort at Manhattan Beach

“It destroyed them financially. It destroyed their chance at the American dream.”

The owners were persistent with their thriving resort despite multiple acts of vandalism and an attack by the white supremacist group Ku Klux Klan.

LA County supervisor Janice Hahn launched the process of returning the property to the descendants of the Bruces in April 2021 and pressed for the handover after the state legislature passed a bill removing the restriction on the land transfer.

“We can’t change the past and we will never be able to make up for the injustice that was done to Willa and Charles Bruce a century ago, but this is a start,” an emotional Ms Hahn was quoted by the Associated Press as saying.

“This may be the first land return of its kind, but it cannot be the last.”

County chair Holly Mitchell during the vote said the Bruce family was “robbed of their property and generational wealth due to unjust laws and practices rooted in systemic racism”.

The motion’s co-author added that “we aren’t giving property to anyone, we are returning property”.

“Property that was erroneously and, based on fear and hate, taken from them.”

The transfer will include an agreement for the property to be leased back to the county for two years, with an annual rent of $413,000 along with operation and maintenance costs. It adds that the county has the right to purchase the land for up to $20m.

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