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The politics of legally stealing land from Black people


Practical Politics 

The voluminous final report of the California State Reparations Commission, submitted last year, identified over 25 persistent harms imposed on the composite Black community in this state. While most of those harms seemed to lack a logical, calculable remedy, the most prominent of those that presented themselves involved real estate----land taken from Black people through dubious, sometimes official means.

Such was the famous Bruce’s Beach seizure by the city administration of Manhattan Beach during the early years of the city’s life. It has been clearly demonstrated that the imminent domain power of the city was used to “legally” seize land privately owned by Black citizens primarily because those landowners were Black and seen as a racial nuisance in the area. To date, more than a century later, the descendants of those Black landowners in Manhattan Beach have received over $20 million dollars from California state and county government for that property.

Unfortunately, there were not a lot of other such cases found by the California Reparations Commission. If there had been, the issue of reparations for African-Americans in California would have become infinitely more straightforward and logical.

One other Bruce Beach-type of case, however, has recently been documented, but not otherwise resolved amicably. The clock is still ticking.

In the city of Santa Monica, a generally liberal bastion of current Black-White residency, which once was the place of the infamous Inkwell restrictions on Black beachgoers down Bay Street, a Mr. Silas White, a prominent Black man, once owned a large land parcel that is presently the site of the luxury four-star Santa Monica hotel, the Viceroy, at the corner of Bay and Pico.  (Currently described as The Viceroy Hotel, Santa Monica --- a luxury  resort  hotel featuring  first-class accommodations and amenities in a prime location just minutes from the Santa Monica beach). Mr. White purchased the land in 1957, and the city of Santa Monica eminent domained it—supposedly to build either a city park or a public parking lot—and later rented the land out to the current owners of the Viceroy Hotel, all without any compensation to Mr. White or his family. 

Currently, the same public interest group that took on the Bruce’s Beach case—the “Where Is My Land” group---is now focusing on this Santa Monica case. We expect some sort of arrangement to eventually be worked out with the surviving members of the Silas White family.

Clearly, city and state governments were not to use legal means to do illegal things, and the seizure of land from Black owners for predominantly racial reasons should not have been and should not be allowed.

We should watch this case in California carefully. It may become one particular model of reparations restoration for the future, since actual financial compensation to Black citizens of the state now seems to be off the table.

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 Friday.

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