Black family to get $20M for beach property relatives lost during Jim Crow

The Bruce family acquired the official deed to Bruce's Beach last year, 98 years after eminent domain was enforced to seize possession of the land.

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A Black family in Southern California is receiving nearly $20 million for an oceanfront property seized during the Jim Crow era and returned to them last year.

According to CNN, descendants of Willa and Charles Bruce, the original owners of Bruce’s Beach, decided to sell the property back to Los Angeles County, Janice Hahn, chair of the county Board of Supervisors, announced on Tuesday.

Following efforts by family members, activists and local officials, the Bruce family finally acquired the official deed last year, 98 years after Manhattan Beach seized possession of the land.

Descendants of Charles and Willa Bruce, with loved ones and local activists, attend a dedication ceremony at Bruce’s Beach in Manhattan Beach, California, in late July. The beachfront property taken from the Bruces through eminent domain a century ago and returned to their heirs in 2022 will be sold back to Los Angeles County for nearly $20 million. (Photo: Jae C. Hong/AP, File)

Hahn said she fought hard to get the Bruce family their land back because she “wanted to right this wrong.” She supports their decision to sell.

“This is what reparations look like,” Hahn said in a statement, according to CNN, “and it is a model I hope governments across the country will follow.”

In 1912, Willa and Charles Bruce paid $1,225 for the oceanfront land and erected several facilities, including a cafe and changing rooms. Their resort gained popularity as a tourist destination for Black families, providing a location for them to enjoy the beach. Still, the Bruce family faced racial threats and intimidation from local white people and the Ku Klux Klan.

Using eminent domain to seize the land in 1924, Manhattan Beach paid the couple a small portion of what they requested. Five years after the Bruces left, they passed away.

Bruce’s Beach was transferred to Los Angeles County in 1995, and in recent years, county officials worked to give the surviving Bruce family their land back. As a result of those efforts, California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a law in 2021 allowing the property to be returned to the Bruces’ descendants.

A ceremony was held on Bruce’s Beach last year to commemorate the property’s transfer, marking the first time a government organization has returned land wrongfully taken from a family of African Americans, theGrio previously reported.

It is now a park with a grassy area and a training facility for lifeguards.

“The seizure of Bruce’s Beach nearly a century ago was an injustice inflicted upon not just Willa and Charles Bruce,” Hahn said, CNN reported, “but generations of their descendants who almost certainly would have been millionaires.”

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