60 Minutes+ highlights Bruce’s Beach, efforts returning ownership to Black descendants
"This isn't just about land being taken from a family. It's an entire experience that was stolen from a community of people," journalist Wesley Lowery said.
Bruce’s Beach was seized from its rightful Black owners a century ago and it’s only now that their descendants may once again claim the land. 60 Minutes+ correspondent Wesley Lowery traveled to the stretch of property at Manhattan’s Beach in Los Angeles to speak with the relatives of Charles and Willa Bruce and city officials about the long journey to make amends.
“It’s pretty straight forward. They took their land from them,” Lowery relayed to theGrio as he previewed his report that is available to stream Sunday.
“At a time when we’re having these conversations about reparations, about justice, about how we grapple with our own history in the country, be it who we have monuments for and who our high schools are named after, right?” he added. “That here was a city that was having that exact conversation, like what should we do with this beach that we took from a Black family? Should we give it back to them or not?”
Charles and Willa Bruce, a Black couple, operated Bruce’s Beach in Southern California from 1912 to 1924. The entrepreneurial couple bought the land for $1,225 and curated it as one of the few places where Black families could relax, vacation, and enjoy themselves at their café, dancehall, and changing rooms in the midst of segregation.
However, in 1924, the City of Manhattan Beach– home to one of the whitest, richest communities in America– claimed the land through eminent domain. The seizure came after years of harassment by white residents and the Klu Klux Klan. The Bruce’s were paid $14,125 for the land which is now valued at $75 million and has since been turned into a park.
The Black Lives Matter movement and the renewed reckoning over race in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder began a process to return the land to the descendants of the Bruce’s and have a formal apology given by Manhattan Beach. As theGrio reported, LA County supervisors voted in April to correct “an injustice inflicted upon not just Willa and Charles Bruce — but generations of their descendants,” Los Angeles County Supervisor Janice Hahn said.
A hallmark of Lowery’s career has been fusing stories at the intersection of race, politics, justice, and accountability. The Pulitzer Prize winner, for his work on the Washington Post‘s Fatal force series, told theGrio why Bruce’s Beach aligned with those ideals.
“In this space, there are no new stories, right? The story of race in America is an ongoing story that’s been playing out for 400 hundred years in the United States,” he said.
“I think that for me, having been on these stories and covering stuff like this now for any number of years, it’s been important to think about how do I cover the complexity and diversity of stories even within the space that it’s not just about criminal justice, it’s not just about police shootings. It’s not just about a specific lane, but rather it can also be about all of the other conversations.”
He continued, “this discussion of how we make people whole who were previously harmed is a major component of the current conversation we’re having in the country about how we can be a more just and equitable society.”
Lowery was able to speak to Anthony Bruce, the great-great grandson of Charles and Willa. He relayed what Anthony felt returning to Bruce’s Beach for only the second time in his life.
“He was talking about, the emotion he felt while he was there and how he felt a level of remembrance, but also a level pain remembering all the things that happened to his family.”
It is that palpable emotion that still resonates throughout the years.
“There were so many things stacked against the Bruce’s, and yet they were able to put the money together, had the wisdom and entrepreneurial spirit to be some early developers in what is still one of the whitest cities in suburban Los Angeles has opened up this successful, thriving business that serviced their own people, right?” Lowery said.
“And this was in the few places Black Americans could go and all of that was taken. This isn’t just about land being taken from a family. It’s an entire experience that was stolen from a community of people.”
He detailed the volume of the theft.
“They could no longer go to the beach, enjoy it, and only think about the fight for equality or America. For Black Americans, it’s being able to about to have a totality of the humanity and a totality of citizenship, being able to do all of things that anyone else can do. And that includes having a picnic on the beach.”
Lowery is mindful and intentional about which stories he pursues. During his time at the Washington Post as a national correspondent, he was “very aware that the newspaper I was writing for would land on the most important desk in the country each day, the Oval Office desk, the desk of the Speaker of the House, and so I used to think about how do I put something on that page that otherwise wouldn’t be there to force powerful people to look at things they might not have seen before.”
Lowery recently joined 60 Minutes+, a spinoff of the juggernaut that has been a staple in journalism. In addition to covering Bruce’s Beach, he wants to leave his imprint on the franchise by spotlighting hard-hitting stories that make a difference.
“You have all the great things that come with 60 Minutes, the name, the reputation, the quality of journalism, the interview style. But then you also have kind of the startup mentality a little bit,” Lowery said. “…marrying that with the old school style and respecting the tradition of 60 Minutes.”
60 Minutes+ can be streamed on Paramount+.
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