The Return of Bruce’s Beach: 100 years after it was stolen, a Black family may finally get its land back

Over 100 years ago, a small strip of Manhattan Beach, Calif., was one of the few places on the West Coast that welcomed people of color who wanted to go to the beach. That was stripped away by agitated white residents who didn’t want to see Black people in their area. Today, the land could soon be returned to the original family who provided this safe oasis for Black beachgoers. Yahoo News’ Garin Flowers investigates.

Video Transcript

GARIN FLOWERS: This is Bruce's Beach. To some it may seem like just a nice little Beach for property, beautiful, and bright but it has a little bit of a dark history.

- This is one of those stories, Rosanna, that just makes you wish for a time machine to go back and make it right.

JANICE HAHN: I feel a little embarrassed about how long it took me to learn the story of Bruce's Beach.

- More than 100 years ago, a local seaside resort called Bruce's Beach provided a safe getaway for Black families.

- Charles and Willa Bruce bought the land and built a resort for Black people in 1912.

- At a time when Jim Crow Segregation Laws prevented African-Americans from enjoying other parts of the sand, the Bruce family welcomed all and flourished as business owners. But that angered the predominantly white neighborhood and eventually the KKK.

- They burned a cross right out here.

- And when that didn't drive them away the city government decided to take the property under the guise of eminent domain. It really was stolen from them.

CHIEF DUANE: This is a story of a crime. They defrauded our people and they denied them their civil rights and their constitutional right to the pursuit of happiness.

GARIN FLOWERS: Since 2020 LA County Supervisor Janice Hahn and Chief Duane Yellow Feathers Shepherd, a distant relative of the Bruce family, have been on a firm push to return ownership of the land to the direct descendants of Charles and Willa Bruce.

JANICE HAHN: It wasn't just an injustice inflicted on Willa and Charles Bruce, it was inflicted on a generation of Bruce's. And this is prime beachfront property worth millions of dollars and the whole family would have done very well if they had been allowed to hang onto it.

CHIEF DUANE: That's all Charles and Willa Bruce wanted to do, was have a legacy to hand down to their children and grandchildren. And they would fully expect it for our children to be very well-to-do people at this time so they made a pretty good living and what they were doing in here in Bruce's Beach.

- In Manhattan Beach California a house on the sand can cost up to $20 million dollars, and Anthony Bruce's family used to own two oceanfront lots.

- I should be a millionaire standing here talking to you today.

JANICE HAHN: When I realized that this very property that was taken hundreds years ago now belonged to the County of Los Angeles I knew that I had to do something. I knew that I had to give the property back.

CHIEF DUANE: We stepped out on faith. We did not know if anything was going to happen in the way of the land, if anybody would even pay us any attention.

JANICE HAHN: I found out that I just couldn't get the property back even though I wanted to because when the state of California transferred this property to the County of Los Angeles. It came with strings attached. And we were told you can have this property but you can't sell it, you can't transfer it, you can't profit off of it, you always have to use it for public benefit. So I needed the law to change.

- Today supervisors voted to return the property to the family and to support a state bill that would make the transfer possible.

GARIN FLOWERS: While there are some detractors in Manhattan Beach, this initiative has been widely supported.

- The family does deserve some compensation. I'm not sure what the right thing to do is as far as compensation, to give them the entire land back, I don't know.

SEN BRIAN D. DAHLE: This country has done a lot of things that are not right. And it's very difficult to fix those wrongs because a lot of things have happened in the course of history that don't really always allow us the ability to be able to do that. In this case, we have an opportunity to do the right thing.

- I actually didn't think that somebody that was Black will actually have property in this vicinity.

- That's the right thing to do because they lost generational wealth.

- I think it should have been returned a long time ago. How about that?

SEN. STEVEN BRADFORD: My 10 plus years here in the legislature I don't think it's going to be a more impactful bill that I can be involved with.

GARIN FLOWERS: After passing in the California Senate, the legislation to allow the return of Bruce's Beach now goes to the state assembly where it's expected to also pass. Eventually, it will go to Governor Gavin Newsom to sign into law.

JANICE HAHN: And once that happens the strings have been cut from this property and will be allowed to give it back.

GARIN FLOWERS: Hahn and the family hope this happens before the legislature goes into recess in September.

CHIEF DUANE: If the land goes to Anthony Bruce, his father, his uncle, and his brother and it will be up to them what they want to do with it. You know, the rest of us, you know, I didn't do it for any monetary gain or to bring any attention to myself. You know, this is a family issue, there was family members that need our help, and I've always been taught when the family reaches out and they need your help, help them.

GARIN FLOWERS: What would you say, on behalf of the County, what would you say to Willa and Charles Bruce if they were here today?

JANICE HAHN: Yeah. Sorry. I mean, I would tell them, sorry it took so long, sorry it took me so long.

CHIEF DUANE: For time it's a very happy time for our family, Charles and Willa Bruce very proud of what they had created and what they were doing for the African-American community. When I look out there I see that beautiful view and I realize this was a remarkable thing, a remarkable place. And we're hoping that it will be, again.


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