Almost 100 years after the city of Manhattan Beach seized a beachfront property from a Black couple, plans now exist to return the plot of land to their descendants.
Charles and Willa Bruce bought the land for about $1,000 in 1912. They built a welcoming oceanside resort catering to Black people. But by 1924, the city condemned and seized the land, using eminent domain to turn the area into a park.
“Not only were they stripped of their property, they lost their business, and they spent the rest of their lives working for someone else,” said State Senator Steven Bradford, chair of the Legislative Black Caucus and a member of the newly formed State Reparations Task Force.
He introduced Senate Bill 796 today, which would remove state restrictions that currently prevent the County of LA from transferring ownership of the land to the Bruce’s descendants.
Senator Ben Allen is a principal co-author of the legislation and Assemblyman Al Muratsuchi is a principal co-author. County Supervisor Janice Hahn, along with other state and regional officials, support the bill.
Bruce’s Beach, which is now home to the LA County lifeguard training center, is valued at $75 million.
KCRW speaks with Duane “Yellow Feather” Shepard, a descendant of the Bruce family and chief of the Pocasset Wampanoag Tribe of the Pokanoket Nation.
He says Charles and Willa Bruce were prominent business owners who had a dance hall, restaurant, and bath house on their property. They even discussed possibly building a hotel there.
“You have the socialites from South Los Angeles, and the politicians, and even the Black gangsters coming in and having social affairs there as well. So they were making quite a bit of money.”
Shepard says the loss of generational wealth has been devastating, and Willa Bruce’s great great grandson, Anthony, still walks to work and doesn’t own a car even after serving in the U.S. military.
“We haven't had the opportunity to buy homes and whatever. We're mostly living below the poverty line here still after 96 years.”
In recent Manhattan Beach City Council meetings, some locals voiced opposition to the city issuing an apology and later voted against doing so.
Shepard says, “The Bruce family is not interested in an apology. We want the restoration of our land. We want restitution for that loss of revenue that we would have had for 96 years. And we want punitive damages. The Manhattan Beach City Council and the Manhattan Police Department colluding with the Ku Klux Klan terrorized our family.”
Shepard says that on top of pushing the bill to pass, the descendants plan to move forward with litigation against Manhattan Beach. “This has been a criminal act, what they did [back in 1924], under the guise of municipal policy. Using eminent domain was a criminal act to railroad my people out of that city.”