Interview: Descendants of Bruce Family Receive Manhattan Beach Property Stolen 100 Years Ago

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Manhattan Beach, CA–As the discussion of reparations for African-Americans continues to gain traction, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors are making moves in the right direction to address a dark past. I

n April, Supervisors Holly Mitchell and Janice Hahn authored a motion to return Manhattan Beach property to descendants of a Black family, whose property was seized by the city during the 1920’s. 

California Governor Gavin Newsom made this a reality last Thursday, when he signed California Senate Bill 796 at a ceremony in Manhattan Beach, returning two parcels of beachfront property to the Bruce family.  

In June, SB 796 authored by Steven Bradford of Gardena, received no opposition in the Senate with 37 votes and three abstentions.

“It was clear that this was wrong. The way it caught fire and people were attentive was very uplifting. We had a lot of support,” said Patricia Bruce-Carter. “Even though there were a handful of prejudices, other than that, for the most part the process has been positive.”

Bruce-Carter says that in fighting for something of this magnitude, public support was very necessary and she appreciates the group Justice For Bruce’s Beach and all the supporters for rallying behind her family.

Kavon Ward, who started the group Justice For Bruce’s Beach, was very instrumental with boots on the ground,” says Bruce-Carter. They were very, very active. I believe their presence is a strong reason we were able to have a victory last Thursday.”

This grassroots, Black-woman group launched a campaign that fiercely advocated for the return of Bruce’s Beach land to the family.  

“It felt good to know that you are not alone in trying to fight for what is right,” said Bruce-Carter. 

Bruce-Carter says that Ward, Co-Founder of Where is My Land, is currently working with numerous other families, who are also seeking rightful ownership of their families land and legacy. In 1912, Willa and Charles Bruce purchased two parcels of Manhattan Beach property, turning the property into a Black resort. 

Like many African-Americans during the time, they were a part of the great migration. These were waves of African-Americans who left the South following the Civil War, in search of economic opportunities and to escape racial violence. The Bruce’s property was seized by Manhattan Beach who claimed they needed the space to build a park–although nothing was built by the city on the land for decades. 

Eventually, the land became property of Los Angeles County after transfers between Manhattan Beach and the State of California. 

In 1945, former Manhattan Beach City Councilmember wrote an article in the Redondo Reflex newspaper entitled, “The Negro Problem,” where he described the meanest thing he ever did.  In 1924, while a member of the City Council, Frank Doherty voted to condemn the two blocks where Black businesses were beginning to thrive along the Beach’s shore.

At one time, we thought that the Negro problem was going to stop our progress,” Doherty wrote. “And they erected a large building at the end of 27th Street using the first floor for a dressing room for bathing and the entire second floor for a dining room and kitchen…

They came here in truckloads with banners flying, Bound for Manhattan Beach. We tried to buy them out, but they would not sell. There were several families in the blocks between 26th and 27th streets and between Strand and Highland.

We had to acquire these two blocks to solve the problem, so we voted to condemn them and make a city park there. We had to protect ourselves. Our attorney advised members of the council never to admit the real purpose and establishment of the park, especially during the council meetings.”  

In March of this year, members of Manhattan Beach’s mostly white community, expressed disapproval of the city offering the Bruce family a public apology during a contentious city council meeting.

“Concerned Residents of MB” paid for two full-page advertisements fighting back against what they referred to as a “woke” mob.” They argued Manhattan Beach did not deserve to be tied to the legacy of racism.

The community members failed to understand, however, that the economic exclusion of African-Americans whether by city governments, or white community members, was not exclusive to Manhattan Beach.

African-Americans attempted to “pull themselves up by their bootstraps” following the end of slavery, and were driven away from prosperous Black cities by whites through mob violence and racial terror throughout the U.S.

The history of Bruce’s Beach is just one page in American history, where African-Americans were stripped from generational wealth by their white counterparts. 

For Bruce-Carter, she is happy the Bruce family history is being corrected.

She shared the Bruce’s come from a family of entrepreneurs who traveled from Texas. Growing up, she remembers her family owned a gas station on Western and Pico.

She is now determined to find out what happened to the family’s business.

In terms of next plans for the property, Anthony Bruce, who is the great-great-grandson of Charles and Willa Bruce, tells news outlets that his family is not “rushing back” to set up business in Manhattan Beach.

Bruce says he feels current undertones in the community reflect the legacy of excluding Black people in the area.

Slauson Girl is a South Central native who has a love for journalism, history and all things Hip-Hop. She holds a B.A in Critical Race & Gender Theory & a Minor in Journalism. Follow Me on IG @Slausongirl

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