California land taken from Black couple returned to heirs

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By John Antczak, AP

A Bruce’s Beach monument was erected on the property in April 2021 (Dean Musgrove/The Orange County Register via AP, File)

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to return ownership of prime California beachfront property to descendants of a Black couple who built a resort for African Americans but were stripped of the land in the 1920s.

The board voted 5-0 on a motion to complete the transfer of parcels in an area once known as Bruce’s Beach in the fashionable city of Manhattan Beach that is now the site of the county’s lifeguard training headquarters and its parking lot.

Board chair Holly J. Mitchell, co-author of the motion, immediately signed the documents which allow the county to lease back the property with an option to purchase it for millions of dollars.

The land was purchased in 1912 by Willa and Charles Bruce, who built the first West Coast resort for Black people at a time when many beaches were segregated.

They suffered racist harassment from white neighbors and in the 1920s the Manhattan Beach City Council took the land through eminent domain. The city did nothing with the property and it was transferred to the state of California in 1948.

Discover how Bruce’s heirs regained the property.

The Bruces weren’t the only people to create vacation spots for the Black community. Michigan’s historic Idlewild is in the middle of a restoration.

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