A beachfront resort confiscated nearly 100 years ago from its black owners was returned to their descendants after a decision by authorities in Los Angeles, United States, on Tuesday (28/6).
Bruce’s Beach resort land was purchased in 1912 by Willa and Charles Bruce to create a lodging and recreation area for blacks at a time of normalized racial segregation in Southern California. Located in the targeted city of Manhattan Beach, the area was forcibly taken over by the local council in 1924.
The couple bought the two lots for $1,225 in 1912. The site is now worth around $20 million.
Willa told a reporter at the time, “Anytime we try to buy land for a beach resort, we’re turned down. But I own this land and I’m going to keep it.”
In the decade following the couple’s purchase, the resort and the beach across from it became a “citadel for leisure-seeking African Americans who came from all over Southern California,” said family spokesman Duane. “Yellow Feather” Shepard, to the BBC last year.
But soon the local police department put up signs limiting parking to 10 minutes, and another local owner put up “no trespassing” warning signs — causing people to walk half a mile to get to the water, Shepard explained. These measures did not deter visitors, so local authorities seized the land through eminent domain laws—a prerogative that allows the government to forcibly purchase land to build roads and public buildings.
At the time, officials claimed they were planning to build a park, but that didn’t happen until many decades later. In the meantime, the area remained vacant.
On Tuesday, a Los Angeles County council unanimously passed the motion to return the area to the family, saying, “It is well documented that the move was a racially motivated attempt to evict a successful black business.” and their patrons”.
The return is the result of a long and tortuous journey. A garden near the beach has had a plaque honoring Willa and Charles for years, and the state legislature had to pass a law to allow the property to return to the family.
Now, the city will lease the family’s land for $413,000 a year, and there’s a clause in the contract that allows for future purchase of the land for up to $20 million plus costs.
“This is a day we weren’t sure would come,” said Anthony Bruce, Willa and Charles’ great-great-grandson.
“It destroyed them financially. It destroyed their chance to have their ‘American dream’. I wish they could see what happened today.”
“We hope this opens people’s eyes to a part of American history that isn’t talked about enough, and we think this is a step towards trying to right the wrongs of the past.”
Duane “Yellow Feather” Shepard has already pointed out that the impact of the land seizure nearly a century ago is still noticeable today.
“We were kicked out of that community… there’s only 1% representation of African Americans in Manhattan Beach right now,” he said, citing numbers confirmed by city demographic censuses.
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