A beach in California that was expropriated from a black family almost 100 years ago has been returned to its descendants by Los Angeles County authorities.
Bruce Beach was purchased in 1912 by Willa and Charles Bruce to create a recreational area for the black community when California was still racially segregated.
Located in the exclusive city of manhattan beachthe property was expropriated by the municipal council in 1924.
This Tuesday, however, Los Angeles County authorities voted in favor of returning the land to the family.
Willa and Charles Bruce bought two pieces of land on the beach for $1,225 in 1912. The current value is estimated at US$20 million.
Citadel for Afro-descendants
On that land the couple built a dining room, a ballroom and a bathing area, Duane “Yellow Feather” Shepard, a historian and spokesman for the family, told the BBC last year.
Bruce Beach became a “citadel for African-Americans who flocked there for recreation from all over Southern California.”
Willa told a reporter at the time: “Whenever we’ve tried to buy land for a beach resort, we’ve been denied it, but I own this land and I’m going to keep it.”
But soon after, around 1914 or 1915, according to Yellow Feather Shepard, “the Ku Klux Klan (white supremacist organization) and the white neighbors decided that they did not want the Bruce family to remain there“.
The local police department put up signs limiting parking time to 10 minutes, and a neighbor put up “no trespassing” signs, forcing people to walk almost a kilometer in any direction to reach the sea, he explained. .
But those measures did not deter visitors, so local authorities decided expropriate the land under a law designed to allow the government to force the sale of property for the construction of roads and other public buildings.
The excuse was that they were going to build a park and the Bruce family was forced to sell a decade later. According to Shepard, “a park was not built until 1957 and the land remained empty until that year.”
Chief Duane Yellow Feather Shepard, who is a member of the expropriated family and also of indigenous descent, led the effort to reclaim the beach.
Over the years they held rallies and events to draw attention to their cause.
This Tuesday, a motion was approved in Los Angeles County that recognizes that “it is well documented” that the expropriation “was racially motivated to force out a successful black company and its clientele.”
The return of the property was the result of an extensive campaign and a difficult process. For years, the beach has had a plaque honoring Willa and Charles, and the state assembly had to pass a law allowing its return.
From now on, the city will lease the land to the family for $413,000 a year, with a clause that would allow him to buy it in the future for up to $20 million plus costs, according to the lease.
“This is a day we weren’t sure would come,” said Willa and Charles’ great-great-grandson Anthony Bruce, calling it a “bittersweet” moment.
“It destroyed them financially. It destroyed their opportunity to achieve the American dream. I wish they could see what happened today,” he said.
The impact of the expropriation is still being felt today, Yellow Feather Shepard told the BBC.
“We were kicked out of that community…currently There is only 1% of African descent in Manhattan Beach“, he assured.