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California beach property returned to family nearly 100 years after it was seized from Black owners

The beachfront property was seized in 1925 to stop the owners from providing Blacks access to the water.

Image source: Twitter/@SupJaniceHahn
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Nearly 100 years after the government seized a Black family’s oceanfront property during racial segregation, Southern California officials announced they are returning the property to the living descendants of the family. In the early 1900s, Willa and Charles Bruce bought the oceanfront property 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. The couple paid a premium for the land, which was priced higher than neighboring lots. Now, Southern California officials have agreed to "right a wrong" by returning the property to the rightful owners. “It is never too late to right a wrong,” said County Supervisor Janice Hahn, who led efforts to return the Manhattan Beach land, reported HuffPost. “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.”

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The great-grandsons of Willa and Charles Bruce will be handed the prime real estate, which is appraised at $21 million. The property was returned after a unanimous vote by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors. Willa Bruce paid $1,225 for the 7,000-square-foot beachfront property, according to an interview she gave in 1912, and added that it was a premium price compared to other lots in the area. “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 at the time when white people tried to stop the resort from functioning. In 1925,  the land was seized by the Manhattan Beach Board of Trustees on the pretext of turning it into a park. County Supervisor Janice Hahn noted that “it is well documented that this move was a racially motivated attempt to drive out the successful Black business and its patrons.” The resort was demolished and the land was transferred to the state until 1995, before being transferred to the county. The property was used for lifeguard operations.

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According to the motion unanimously passed, the property will be transferred to the couple’s two great-grandsons, Marcus and Derrick Bruce. 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. “The Lease Agreement will allow the Bruce family to realize the generational wealth previously denied them while allowing the County’s lifeguard operations to continue for the foreseeable future without interruption,” stated the motion.

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Anthony Bruce, a great-great-grandson of Willa and Charles, said the loss of the property destroyed his family with both of them working as chefs for other business owners for the rest of their lives. Anthony said his grandfather Bernard was consumed by anger over the treatment meted out to his family, reported Los Angeles Times. “Many families across the United States have been forced away from their homes and lands,” he said. “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.”

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