What Manhattan Beach, Calif., Says About ReparationsBreaking News
tags: African American history, California, Los Angeles, reparations
The saga of Bruce’s Beach, a California park with stunning Pacific Ocean views, is a story for our times. The land was effectively stolen nearly a century ago, when the Manhattan Beach City Council voted to seize the property from Willa and Charles Bruce, a Black couple. Now, another government body is taking steps to return the land to the original owners’ descendants. But the town refuses to apologize for its long-ago actions, as some of those descendants are demanding.
The episode is, in microcosm, an example of the complexities of reparations, the emotional issues surrounding them and the difficulty of owning up to past sins. Can our nation make adequate financial reparations if it can’t agree on verbal apologies? What precisely is owed to descendants of the victims of racist government actions? For every Evanston, Ill. — which recently voted to offer up to $25,000 toward down payments or home repairs for Black residents affected by housing discrimination and their descendants — there are other places where legislation to even study reparations is foundering. The tangle of injured feelings stirred by the Bruce’s Beach dispute helps explain why.
Manhattan Beach today is a wealthy, very White suburban enclave a few miles south of Los Angeles International Airport. Black residents account for less than 1 percent of the population. In 1912, it was a slightly developed weekend and summer community when the Bruces bought property and opened a beachfront resort for Blacks. They prospered and soon purchased adjacent land.
But the Bruce family and their patrons were harassed. Car tires were slashed, and a Ku Klux Klan member was suspected of setting a fire on the property.
In 1924, the city used eminent domain to acquire the Bruces’ land and some other nearby properties. “We thought that the Negro problem was going to stop our progress,” City Council member Frank Doherty later wrote, “so we voted to condemn” two blocks “and make a city park there.”
After several years of legal wrangling, the Bruce family received $14,500 in compensation from the town (about $225,000 in 2021 dollars). That’s peanuts in Manhattan Beach, where the median home price is $3.2 million.
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