What Manhattan Beach’s Racist Land Grab Really MeantRoundup
tags: segregation, African American history, Los Angeles, urban history, public history, beaches, recreation
Alison Rose Jefferson is a scholar in residence with the Institute for the Study of Los Angeles at Occidental College and author of Living the California Dream: African American Leisure Sites during the Jim Crow Era.
The question of how to acknowledge and repair racist crimes of the past has drawn more urgency in many communities, especially after last summer’s nationwide protests for racial justice.
In Los Angeles County, the wrong done to Willa and Charles Bruce and their descendants has captured a lot of media attention, perhaps because it involves a quintessential part of the California dream: a beautiful piece of oceanfront property on Santa Monica Bay.
In 1912, the Bruces, pioneering Black entrepreneurs, opened a popular oceanfront resort business in Manhattan Beach. Their business served a growing community of African American beachgoers, who also bought land and built cottages nearby.
Black visitors and property owners enjoyed the area, which was known as Bruce’s Beach, until they were chased out in 1924 by white city officials in a racist, anti-Black land grab through an eminent domain proceeding that took the land for a park.
Recently, some county officials have raised the possibility of giving financial restitution or even returning the land to the Bruce descendants. The city of Manhattan Beach has struggled with this ugly history in recent years, and in 2006, it renamed the site of the razed resort Bruce’s Beach. This year, city residents have proposed placing new interpretive panels and artwork on the site to tell the story in a fuller fashion.
But the damage done was always deeper than the economic loss to the Bruces or the other families who were also driven out. The purging of African Americans from Manhattan Beach destroyed a vibrant social space.
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