Returning Bruce's Beach in California to the Black family who originally owned it

May 04, 2021

In the early 1900s, Willa and Charles Bruce were among a wave of Black Americans who had migrated to California from across the country. The entrepreneurs owned two plots of oceanfront property in what is now the Los Angeles suburb of Manhattan Beach, where they opened a resort known as "Bruce's Beach." It was among the first oceanfront properties that was owned by and serviced Black residents.

"This was an opportunity for a leisure business to provide services to African Americans who wanted to come to the beach," said Dr. Alison Rose Jefferson, a historian who has spent years researching the history of Black Americans in California beach towns. "They would be less harassed in this area because there was this African American business that could provide them with, you know, something to drink, or a place to change their clothes."

Then members of the local White population started trying to run them out.

"So even while the business was successful, from day one, they were harassed with tactics to chase them out of the area," Jefferson explained.

Volunteer police officers were enlisted by a local developer to keep the Bruces' clients from the beach. Residents, including members of the Ku Klux Klan, began a harassment campaign.

Despite threats and acts of violence, the Bruce family refused to leave. Eventually, though, they didn't have a choice.

"The city said that it was taking this land-- the eminent domain to build a park," Jefferson said. "And the Bruces… and some of the other families… fought this effort, but they weren't successful in the fight."

The Bruces and four other Black families had their property taken by the city via eminent domain. The Bruces requested $70,000 for their property, but the city ultimately paid them just $14,500.

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