Almost 100 years after a Black family’s property at sea was seized by the government during racial segregation, Southern California officials agreed to return the property to their living descendants in an effort to “correct a mistake.”
The great-grandchildren of Willa and Charles Bruce, who bought the land for use as a Black beach resort in the early 1900s, will return the first property, valued at $ 21 million, to them after a unanimous vote Tuesday by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.
“It’s never too late to correct a mistake,” County Supervisor Janice Hahn, who helped lead efforts to return the Manhattan Beach land, said in a statement. “Bruce’s Beach was taken almost a century ago, but it was an injustice inflicted not only on Willa and Charles Bruce, but generations of their descendants who today would almost certainly be millionaires if they were allowed to own their property on the beach. to retain. “
The 7,000-square-foot property gave Blacks access to the beach at a time when they were otherwise prevented and discouraged from accessing the coast. Willa Bruce paid $ 1,225 for the property, according to a 1912 interview she described that price as “high” compared to nearby plots.
“Wherever we tried to buy land for a beach resort, we were refused, but I own this land and I will keep it,” she said when confronted with opposition from white locals who allegedly promised to to find a solution the resort would continue to work.
About 13 years later, in 1925, the land was seized by the Manhattan Beach Board of Trustees under excellent domain with claims that it would be converted into a park. Hahn’s motion, co-authored with Supervisor Holly Mitchell, noted that “it is well documented that this move was a racially motivated attempt to drive out the successful Black business and its patrons.”
The property was condemned just five years later, and the resort was demolished. The land was transferred to the state until 1995, when it was transferred to the county, which used it for lifesaving operations.
A transfer agreement gives the property back to the family’s two great-grandchildren, Marcus and Derrick Bruce. There is a 24-month lease agreement in which the country will pay $ 413,000 annually for its continued use. It will also pay for operating and maintenance costs. The agreement also includes the right for the land to buy the land at a later date for $ 20 million.
“The Lease Agreement will enable the Bruce family to realize the generational wealth they previously denied, while continuing the County’s lifesaving operations for the foreseeable future without interruption,” the motion reads.
Anthony Bruce, a great-great-grandson of Willa and Charles, told the Los Angeles Times that the loss of land had torn his family apart years ago.
Willa and Charles Bruce eventually worked for the rest of their lives as chefs for other business owners, and Anthony’s grandfather, Bernard, lived his life “extremely angry with the world” over his family’s abuse, he said.
“Many families across the United States have been forced out of their homes and countries,” he told the Times. “I hope that these monumental events encourage such families to continue to trust and believe that one day they will have what they deserve. We hope that our country no longer accepts prejudice as acceptable behavior, and we must stand united against it, because it has no place in our society today. “