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L.A. County to Buy Bruce’s Beach for $20 Million from Black Family Who Reclaimed Land

Bruce’s Beach is being sold back to Los Angeles County for almost $20 million just six months after descendants of the Black couple that owned the property 100 years ago reclaimed the land that had been seized by local government through eminent domain.

Two African American couples standing on a walkway at Bruce’s Beach, Manhattan Beach, circa 1920 Miriam Matthews Photograph Collections, Library Special Collections, Charles E. Young Research Library, UCLA

The family is selling back its namesake property in Manhattan Beach, California, but according to at least one official who helped facilitate the landmark transfer, the buyback is reparations for the land being “stolen,” The New York Daily News reported.

The county’s buyback of the land, which was once a resort area for Black people at a time when many beaches were segregated, was an option the heirs insisted on before the transfer of title last July. Before reclaiming the land, the two heirs had a two-year option to resell to the county added to the transfer agreement.

The Fight for Bruce’s Beach

The land that was purchased by Willa and Charles Bruce in 1912, but in 1924 the government seized the prime real estate via eminent domain, the right of a government to expropriate private property for public use via a forced sale.

The Manhattan Beach Board of Trustees took over Bruce’s Beach through an eminent domain action, ostensibly to build a park. What Ku Klux Klan agitators opposed to the Black enclave could not accomplish through intimidation the local government did with a stroke of a pen, wiping African-Americans from the area. The property, for which the couple was paid $14,500, included a hotel on the Black-owned beach got demolished in 1929.

In 1948, the city, which never built the park, gave the land to state of California, and the land was transferred to the county in 1995.

On July 20, 2022, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors returned ownership of Bruce’s Beach to Derrick and Marcus Bruce, two great-grandsons of Charles and Willa Bruce who were deemed their closest legal heirs. The pair’s agreement included two two-year options. One was to rent the property to the county for $413,000 per year and the other was the one being exercised now, to sell it back for nearly $20 million.

Reparative justice consultant Kavon Ward, she learned about Bruce’s Beach in 2016 after being shared an article on it. Ward partnered with Patrisse Cullors, one of the Black Lives Matter founders, and created a petition calling for restitution and restoration for the Bruce family. Ward founded Justice for Bruce’s Beach, a grassroots movement to restore the family’s land. Ward is founder and CEO of Where Is My Land, an organization focused on getting Black land back nationwide. Ward celebrated the transfer as a victory last July.

“I had a vision, a vision which has been fully realized today,” Ward said on the day of the transfer, as USA Today reported. “A vision that what was once taken from a people (would) be returned. A vision that something that had never been done before in history happen for the first time I had a vision.”

“The seizure of Bruce’s Beach nearly a century ago was an injustice inflicted upon not just Willa and Charles Bruce, but generations of their descendants who almost certainly would have been millionaires,” Janice Hahn, chair of the L.A. County Board of Supervisors, said in a statement this week.

“I fought to return Bruce’s Beach because I wanted to right this wrong,” Hahn’s statement continued. “This fight has always been about what is best for the Bruce family, and they feel what is best for them is selling this property back to the County for nearly $20 million and finally [rebuild] the generational wealth they were denied for nearly a century. This is what reparations look like and it is a model that I hope governments across the country will follow.”

In August 2020, the City Council of Manhattan Beach launched a resident-led task force to investigate and properly acknowledge the city’s racially motivated eminent domain action. At the end of the research, it was settled the city would honor the late Bruce family with a plaque and an art piece placed in the park.

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