How a Black Family Got Their Beach BackBreaking News
tags: racism, African American history, California, Los Angeles, Bruces Beach
Duane "Yellow Feather" Shepard stands at the top of a narrow park that slopes downward toward a lifeguard training center and panoramic views of the Pacific coast.
"We're looking over the horizon at a beautiful, beautiful ocean," Shepard says. "It's blue, serene — it's quiet. It's just a gorgeous, gorgeous view."
For Shepard, this oceanfront park known as Bruce's Beach — located in Manhattan Beach, Calif., just south of Los Angeles — holds a painful history. "This is the land that our family used to own," he says.
Shepard's ancestors, an African American couple named Charles and Willa Bruce, owned this land a century ago. The couple built a beachfront resort called Bruce's Beach Lodge in 1912 and welcomed Black beachgoers with a restaurant, a dance hall, and changing tents with bathing suits for rent.
But the Bruces were run out of Manhattan Beach and forced to shut down their successful resort. Their property was seized by the city, and they lost their fortune. For years, the land was owned by the county of Los Angeles — until last month, when California passed a law that allowed the property to be transferred back to the couple's descendants.
The historic Bruce's Beach case is inspiring social justice leaders and reparations activists to fight for other Black families whose ancestors were also victims of land theft in the United States.
Shepard, a cousin of the direct descendant of Charles and Willa Bruce, says Bruce's Beach offered a refuge for Black patrons during the Jim Crowe era.
"There weren't many areas where Black people could get into the water along the entire coast of California at that time," Shepard, 70, tells NPR. He's a clan chief of the Pocasset Wampanoag Tribe of the Pokanoket Nation.
"[Bruce's Beach] was a place where people could have social functions," he says. "You had Black entertainers, actors and actresses, jazz artists, Black politicians as well as business owners and socialites."
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