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Monday, January 30, 2023

California returns beachfront land seized from Black owners to family

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California’s governor has signed a bill that clears the way for a valuable parcel of beachfront land near Los Angeles to be returned to the descendants of a Black family who had it seized nearly 100 years ago.

The move by Gavin Newsom allows Los Angeles County to return the Bruce’s Beach property in Manhattan Beach, which was taken from Willa and Charles Bruce under eminent domain by the city in 1924.

“I want to apologise to the Bruce family,” said Mr Newsom as he put his signature on the paperwork that will sign the transfer of ownership into law.

The parcel of land, which faces directly onto the Pacific, has been used as a public park and could be worth as much as $75m.

The Bruce family bought the land in 1912 for $1,225 and created a beach resort popular with Black families who wanted to enjoy a trip to the beach.

The resort included a bath house, a cafe and a dance hall, but quickly became a target of racist opposition and even a 1920 attack by the Ku Klux Klan.

The city, under pressure from its white residents, condemned the property, and other Black-owned parcels around it, and seized it with the stated goal of building a park.

The resort was forced out of business and the Bruce family lost their land in 1929, but the land remained undeveloped for decades and was transferred to the state in 1948 and the county in 1995.

Current state law requires Los Angeles County to use Bruce’s Beach for public recreation and bans the county from transferring it, but Senate bILL 796 signed by Mr Newsom scraps those restrictions.

The California Legislature gave its final approval to the measure earlier this month.

“The land in the City of Manhattan Beach, which was wrongfully taken from Willa and Charles Bruce, should be returned to their living descendants and it is in the public interest of the State of California, the County of Los Angeles, the City of Manhattan Beach, and the People of the State of California to do so,” the bill states.

State Senator Steven Bradford, who authored the bill, welcomed the governor’s signature on it.

“I’m honored for this governor to have the courage to do the right thing,” said Mr Bradford at Thursday’s outdoor signing at Bruce’s Beach.

“If you can inherit generational wealth, you can inherit generational debt. The city of Manhattan Beach owes a debt to the Bruce family.

“The state of California owes a debt to the Bruce family, and the county of Los Angeles owes a debt to the Bruce family, and our governor today is here to fix his signature to this bill to pay that debt to the Bruce family.”

After Mr Newsom signed the bill, he handed his pen to Anthony Bruce, whose great-great grandparents had once owned the land.

“As Governor of California, let me do what apparently Manhattan Beach is unwilling to do: I want to apologise to the Bruce family,” said Mr Newsom

And he added: “I really believe this can be catalytic. What we’re doing here today can be done and replicated anywhere else. There’s an old adage: Once a mind is stretched it never goes back to its original form.”

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