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Practical Politics


As the summer sun

in Los Angeles makes

its very intense and

vibrant entrance this

June, it is interesting to

reflect on things before

and things now.

Not many Black millennials

know of or ever

heard of the Inkwell in Santa Monica, or Bruce’s

Beach in Manhattan Beach. Time was, those were

virtually the only areas of the Los Angeles-based

coast in which Blacks were allowed to regularly

hang out and party.

A lot of the racial segregation in early L.A. was

informal rather than legalized, although there was

certainly enough of the latter to go around. By

1863, California had banned the practice of

excluding Blacks from testifying in court (regardless

to the then still-standing 1857 Supreme Court

case, Dred Scott v. Sanford), and by 1893, the state

had passed a general anti-racial discrimination

law, and a school desegregation law. But that was

all de jure. Everyday life was de facto, and as the

residential population of Southern California grew,

especially near the beaches, Los Angeles and its

surrounding communities were depicted as a

mecca for Whites-only.

In 1912, Charles and Willa Bruce bought four

adjoining parcels of land in the newly established

township of Manhattan Beach. They then built the

first beach resort exclusively for Black and non-

White people in Southern California. There, Black

folk could play in the surf and sand comfortably,

they could stay in a beach-front hotel, they could

shop and dine out. They could refresh themselves

in the Pacific Coast version of the American


However, in the 1920’s, the Manhattan Beach

area attracted a number of KKK affiliates, and

racial harassment in the area became the norm.

Eventually, the city government of Manhattan

Beach used eminent domain and zoning laws to

seize the Bruce’s property and to close down all of

the ancillary businesses. Three years later, the city

tried to sell the property to a private developer, but

the area NAACP got wind of it and organized a

large public protest, including a swim-in action,

and the city backed down.

The area was renamed City Park, then Beach

Front Park, then Bayview Park, and in 1974,

Parque Culiacan, as the city government could not

decide what to do with the land.

In July 2006, some 82-years after seizing the

property from the Bruce family, the Manhattan

Beach city government finally voted 3-2 to rename

the 3-acre beach front property as Bruce’s Beach,

and there was a large, festive commemoration ceremony

for the restoration in March 2007. The

property, and a relatively big sign identifying it, is

now located off Highland Avenue between 26th

and 27th streets, and is Manhattan Beach’s oldest

city park. It is a nice, pleasant visit.

During the 1920’s, a small group of Black communities

grew up in Santa Monica and Venice,

mainly centered around African American churches,

especially the Phillips Chapel C.M.E., and later

the Calvary Baptist Church. Near Phillips, at the

end of Pico Boulevard, lay an ample part of the

beach. African American church members began

regularly treating themselves to those waters in the

afternoons after church service, until the area

picked up the name, the Inkwell. Though the nickname

was meant to be pejorative, it stuck and was

transformed into a popular name. Around that

area grew a group of Black businesses, such as the

La Bonita Bathhouse and Thurman’s Rest-A-While

Apartments. The Dew Drop Inn and Café became

a favorite rest-stop for black beach goers, and so

did the Arkansas Traveler Inn, with its famous

southern fried chicken and bar-be-que. Because it

was so close to a community church, the Inkwell

patrons were not harassed as often and as violently

as Black beachgoers were at Bruce’s Beach.

However, when several Black attorneys and

business men organized the Ocean Frontage

Investment Group to acquire expanded properties

to build a beach resort area with hotels, bath houses

and dance halls, the Santa Monica city government

utilized zoning laws and restrictive covenants

to block their efforts. There was widespread White

fear of too many Blacks coming into the area.

Regardless, the Inkwell beach lasted well into the

1960’s, becoming a major attraction to Black

American migration to Los Angeles and Southern


In 2005, the City of Santa Monica commemorated

Phillips Chapel, and in 2008, it held a large

commemoration of the Inkwell, where there is still

a large sign at Bay Street and Oceanfront Walk.

Ah, the good ole days.

Professor David L. Horne is founder and executive director

of PAPPEI, the Pan African Public Policy and Ethical

Institute, which is a new 501(c)(3) pending community-based

organization or non-governmental organization (NGO). It is

the stepparent organization for the California Black Think

Tank which still operates and which meets every fourth


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