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Bruce’s Beach in California returned to Black family nearly a century after it was seized

Bruce's Beach in Manhattan Beach, California. (303070)
Bruce’s Beach in Manhattan Beach, California. Credit: By ChildofMidnight at English Wikipedia, CC BY 3.0,

California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a law Thursday allowing ownership of a prime beachfront property to be transferred to heirs of a couple who built a resort for Black people in the early 1900s but were stripped of the land by local officials, reports ABC News.

The legislation unanimously approved by state lawmakers in Seotember was necessary to allow the start of the complex legal process of transferring ownership of what was once known as Bruce’s Beach in the city of Manhattan Beach and has been owned by Los Angeles County.

“The journey here was far from easy,”” said Kavon Ward, a Black resident who learned of the property’s history and founded Justice for Bruce’s Beach. With a half-dozen descendants of the couple present, Newsom apologized for how the land was taken before signing the bill during a ceremony at the property. He suggested the move could be the start of broader reparations.

“This can be catalytic,” he said. “”What we’re doing here today can be done and replicated anywhere else.”

County Supervisor Janice Hahn, who led a government push to transfer the land, said the heirs would almost certainly be millionaires now if the property had not been taken.

“The law was used to steal this property 100 years ago, and the law today will give it back,” Hahn said.

The property along the south shore of Santa Monica Bay encompasses two parcels purchased in 1912 by Willa and Charles Bruce, who built the first West Coast resort for Black people at a time when segregation barred them from many beaches. It included a lodge, cafe, dance hall and dressing tents.

White neighbors harassed the Bruces, and there was an attempt to burn down the resort. The Manhattan Beach City Council used eminent domain to take the land from the Bruces in the 1920s, purportedly for use as a park. The land lay unused for years, however, and was transferred to the state in 1948. In 1995, it was transferred to Los Angeles County for beach operations. It came with restrictions limiting the ability to sell or transfer the property, which could only be lifted through a new state law.