This Black Family Ran a Thriving Beach Resort 100 Years Ago. They Want Their Land Back.Breaking News
tags: racism, African American history, Los Angeles, urban history, beaches, leisure
In 1912, Willa and Charles Bruce bought a plot of land on the Southern California coast.
It was an oceanside lot in an area dotted with sunny blossoms of evening primrose and purple clusters of lupine. The land, made accessible by red trolley cars that trundled to and from the growing metropolis of Los Angeles, was ripe for development.
The Bruces and their son, Harvey, came from New Mexico and were among the first Black people to settle in what would become the city of Manhattan Beach. They built a resort where other Black families could swim, lounge, eat and dance without being subject to racist harassment.
The harassment came anyway, and the resort thrived despite it. But city officials shuttered the enterprise by condemning the land in 1924, claiming to need it for a public park. The Bruces fought the move through litigation, but failed. The city paid them $14,500, and they left their beach and lost their business.
Nearly a century later, their descendants are still seeking restitution.
“I just want justice for my family,” said Anthony Bruce, 38, a descendant of the Bruces who lives in Florida and has childhood memories of visiting the California land his relatives once owned.
Alison Rose Jefferson, a historian based in Los Angeles, wrote about the Bruces and other families in a book, “Living the California Dream: African American Leisure Sites During the Jim Crow Era.”
“Many people only think about African-American civil rights through economic and political power,” Dr. Jefferson said. “They sometimes forget about the fact that recreation was a big part of the struggle.”
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