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Black family receives deed to California beach a century after land was seized from their ancestors

The event on Wednesday was the final step in transferring Bruce's Beach from Los Angeles County back into the hands of the family heirs.

Black family receives deed to California beach a century after land was seized from their ancestors
Cover Image Source: Twitter/Janice Hahn

Nearly a century after a seaside property was seized from its Black owners, the deed to Bruce's Beach has been formally returned to the heirs of Willa and Charles Bruce. Earlier this week, Anthony Bruce—the great-great-grandson of the original Manhattan Beach land owners—was presented with an official deed marking the transfer of land by Dean Logan, the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder. According to CCN, the event on Wednesday was the final step in transferring Bruce's Beach from Los Angeles County back into the hands of the family heirs. "This transfer will allow the Bruce family to realize generational wealth, which they have been denied for generations simply because they were black in America," said State Sen. Steven Bradford, who authored the state bill that allowed the land to be transferred back to the Bruce family.



 

 

As we previously reported, Willa and Charles Bruce bought the oceanfront property in the early 1900s to build a resort that could be used by Black people and help them access the shore at a time when they were prevented and restricted. Willa Bruce purchased the 7,000-square-foot land for $1,225—a higher price than neighboring lots—and built several facilities, including a cafe and changing rooms. "Wherever we have tried to buy land for a beach resort we have been refused, but I own this land and I am going to keep it," she said in a 1912 interview. Unfortunately, the family suffered racist harassment from their white neighbors and the Ku Klux Klan.



 

 

In 1925, the Manhattan Beach City Council condemned the property and took it through eminent domain, paying the couple a fraction of what they asked for. While the city is said to have wanted it for a park, it did nothing with the property and eventually transferred it to the state of California in 1948. County Supervisor Janice Hahn, who led efforts to return the Manhattan Beach land, noted that seizing the property from the Bruces "was a racially motivated attempt to drive out the successful Black business and its patrons." The property is now estimated to be worth $20 million.



 

The complex process of returning the property to the heirs of the Bruces was launched by Hahn, a member of the County Board of Supervisors, when she learned about the property’s history two years ago. "Nothing like this has ever been done before," she said on Wednesday. "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."



 

In September last year, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed into law Senate Bill 796, which enabled Los Angeles County officials to immediately begin transferring the land to the family. In addition to the state legislation, the transfer also required votes by the board and a process of identifying who should get the land. "It is never too late to right a wrong," Hahn said last month. "Bruce's Beach was taken nearly a century ago, but it was an injustice inflicted upon not just Willa and Charles Bruce but generations of their descendants who would, almost certainly, be millionaires today if they had been allowed to keep their beachfront property."



 

"Many families across the United States have been forced away from their homes and lands," the Bruces' heir, Anthony, told Los Angeles Times in June. "We hope that our country no longer accepts prejudice as an acceptable behavior, and we need to stand united against it, because it has no place in our society today." Speaking at the ceremony where he was presented with the deed, he said: "Thank you so much. Without God, we would not be here today. And finally, most importantly, thank you all." The county will continue to use the land as per a 24-month lease agreement at a cost of $413,000 annually. The county will also take care of operation and maintenance costs. The agreement includes a clause that allows the county to purchase the land at a later date for $20 million.

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