West Coast
Willa and Charles Bruce once operated a beach resort on the land before it was seized via eminent domain in the 1920s. Photograph: Patrick T Fallon/AFP/Getty Images

CA - Bruce’s Beach heirs to sell land back to Los Angeles county for $20m

California had returned land seized from Willa and Charles Bruce in 1920 to their heirs last year as part of its reparations policy

A southern California beachfront property that was taken from a Black couple through eminent domain a century ago and returned to their heirs last year will be sold back to Los Angeles county for nearly $20m, officials said on Tuesday.

The sale comes as the state of California continues to consider sweeping financial reparations for the government’s treatment of Black Americans, including government confiscation of property, housing discrimination, over-policing and health disparities.

The heirs’ decision to sell what was once known as Bruce’s Beach was announced by Janice Hahn, chair of the county board of supervisors, and Steven Bradford, a state senator , who led local and state governmental efforts to undo the long-ago injustice.

“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 $20m and finally rebuilding the generational wealth they were denied for nearly a century,” Hahn said in a statement.

The land in the city of Manhattan Beach was purchased in 1912 by Willa and Charles Bruce, who, defying opposition from white residents, built a small beachside resort for African Americans on Santa Monica Bay, near Los Angeles.

The Bruces suffered racist harassment from white neighbors and were targeted by the Ku Klux Klan, and the Manhattan Beach city council condemned the property in the 1920s and took it through eminent domain. The city did nothing with the property, and it was transferred to the state of California and then to Los Angeles county.

The Bruce family was left impoverished, with Willa and Charles forced to work as cooks in other people’s establishments, rather than running their own resort, descendants said. Instead of inheriting a family fortune, many of the Bruce descendants struggled financially, with many living below the poverty line, Duane Yellow Feather Shepard told the Guardian in 2021.

“It’s hit them very hard – there are student loans they could have paid off, there are mortgages they might not even have had. They would have been multimillionaires,” Shepard said.

Bernard Bruce, the grandson of Willa and Charles, had spent decades trying to restore the family’s legacy. “He was obsessed about it, because he knew how much it was worth. He was trying to get that land back for almost his entire life,” his grandson, Anthony Bruce, told the Guardian in 2021.

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