Bruce’s Beach property in California back in family's hands after nearly a century of injustice

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A multimillion dollar California beach property will be given back to the descendants of a Black couple after the government took the land through eminent domain in the 1920s 

“The Bruces have found mercy in the unfailing love of Jesus Christ,” said Anthony Bruce, the family’s great-great grandson, as he read a prayer during a ceremony concerning the land Thursday.

Willa and Charles Bruce bought the property in the Los Angeles suburb Manhattan Beach in 1912 for $1,225. The beach soon became known as “​Bruce’s Beach” and offered Black families a California resort as other local beaches turned them away based on their race. 

White locals, however, began complaining about the Bruces, their resort, and the families who vacationed there, spurring racism and harassment, the Associated Press reported. 

MANHATTAN BEACH, CALIFORNIA – APRIL 19: A photo of Charles and Willa Bruce is attached to a plaque marking Bruce’s Beach on April 19, 2021 in Manhattan Beach, California. The beachfront property was once a seaside resort owned by Charles and Willa Bruce, a Black couple, which catered to African Americans. Amid the Jim Crow era, the city claimed the property in 1924 through eminent domain while vastly underpaying the couple for the land. Los Angeles County is making plans to return the prime beachfront property, which may be worth $75 million, to Bruce family descendants. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

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The city ultimately took the land in 1924 through eminent domain – the government’s power to take private property for public use – saying it would be used as a park. The land, however, sat dormant for years and was eventually transferred to the state in 1948.

The couple also sued for racial discrimination and eventually received $14,500, but never got the land back, according to The Los Angeles Times.

The land was again transferred in 1995 to Los Angeles County for beach operations, which limited the ability to sell or transfer the property.

The property sits on two lots, which are now valued at about $75 million total.  

The process to transfer the land back to descendants of the Bruce couple began Thursday, after legislation was unanimously approved by state lawmakers and Gov. Gavin Newsom signed the landmark bill into law.

“As governor of California, let me do what apparently Manhattan Beach is unwilling to do, and I want to apologize to the Bruce family for the injustice that was done to them a century ago,” Newsom said in Manhattan Beach Thursday. “I say that as a proud Californian, but also mindful that we always haven’t had a proud past.”

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

Birds take flight on the beach between 26th and 27th Streets at Bruces Beach in Manhattan Beach. Los Angeles County is trying to give the land back to the Bruce family, a Black family that was pushed off Bruces Beach a century ago by Manhattan Beach. Bruces Beach was one of the most prominent Black-owned resorts by the sea.The Bruce family used to have a resort right on the strand where the Los Angeles County Lifeguard Division office is and was popular with Black beachgoers. The Bruce’s Beach plaque is at the top of the hill, but the actual Bruce property is the lifeguard building at the bottom of the hill, on the Strand at Bruce’s Beach between 26th Street and 27th Street on Wednesday, March 24, 2021 in Manhattan Beach, CA. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
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About six descendants of the Bruce couple were in attendance when Newsom signed the bill, as well as local activists.

“There are other families waiting for this very day, to have their land returned to them,” said Patricia Bruce, a cousin of Willa and Charles Bruce.

“The journey here was far from easy,” added Kavon Ward, a Black resident who founded Justice for Bruce’s Beach after learning of the property’s history. Ward also founded Where Is My Land, an organization that aims to return land taken from Black Americans and get restitution. 

Patricia Bruce said the family has not yet decided what it will do with the property.

The Associated Press and Fox News’s Brie Stimson contributed to this report. 

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