L.A. County returns prime beach property to Black family 98 years after city took it from ancestors 

Descendants of Charles and Willa Bruce finally own the oceanfront land that was wrongfully taken from their ancestors in 1924.

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Descendants of the Bruce family finally own the oceanfront property that was wrongfully taken from their ancestors in 1924 through eminent domain, according to The Los Angeles Times. 

A ceremony was held on Bruce’s Beach Wednesday in celebration of the return of the property to the Bruce kin — and to mark the first time a government entity has ever returned land wrongfully taken from a family of African Americans. 

Anthony Bruce and his wife, Sandra Bruce, listen to a speaker during Wednesday’s ceremony in Manhattan Beach, California, to return ownership of Bruce’s Beach to his family — descendants of the Bruces who had the land stripped from them nearly a century ago. (Photo: David McNew/Getty Images)

“Today, we’re sending a message to every government in this nation confronted with the same challenge: This work is no longer unprecedented,” said Los Angeles County Supervisor Janice Hahn. “We have set the precedent, and it is the pursuit of justice.”

It was Hahn who helped launch the complex legislative and legal battle to return the land to the Bruce family. At the event Wednesday, she noted: “We can’t change the past, and we will never be able to make up for the injustice that was done to your great-great-grandparents and great-grandparents Willa and Charles nearly a century ago. But this is a start.”

Charles and Willa Bruce arrived in California in 1912. They purchased two lots right on the sand near what is now known as Manhattan Beach. The couple ran a cafe and dance hall that was popular among Black beachgoers, however, racism reared its ugly head. The Bruce family and their guests were frequently harassed by local real estate agents and the Ku Klux Klan. When they wouldn’t leave the land, city officials used eminent domain to claim it for a park. 

The two Bruce-owned parcels of land sat empty for decades before being transferred to the state of California in 1948, then to the county of Los Angeles in 1995. As a county supervisor, Hahn joined forces with Supervisor Holly Mitchell and California state Sen. Steven Bradford, chair of the California Legislative Black Caucus. The three of them rallied state lawmakers and the governor to authorize the transfer of the land back to the Bruce family. 

Los Angeles County will now rent the property from the Bruces for $413,000 annually. They will maintain a lifeguard facility there, and also have the right to buy the land from the Bruce family at a later date for $20 million.

Derrick and Anthony Bruce, a great-grandson and great-great-grandson of Charles and Willa Bruce, were on hand for Wednesday’s event

“I do thank God,” said family attorney Anthony Bruce, who traveled from Florida with his wife, Sandra, to attend the ceremony, featuring music and dancing.

“These aren’t moments, they are movements,” said Mitchell, who spoke Wednesday as Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come” played in the background. “This has been a marathon, not a sprint — and it was a marathon where a number of people have taken the baton and pass it and pass it and pass it to get us here today.”

There are five other families in circumstances similar to the Bruce family in Santa Monica, Palm Springs, Coloma, Hayward and Canyon, all located in California. Kavon Ward, the founder of Where’s My Land, a nonprofit organization aimed at helping Black Americans regain their stolen land through research, data and technology, is also helping those other families.

At the ceremony, Ward said the Bruce family’s story “confirms that people have a right to have this much audacious hope and vision. … I am looking forward to many more days where we correct the harm that was done.”

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