- LA County officials are set to return beachfront property that was taken from a Black family in the 1920s.
- Charles and Willa Bruce owned a beach resort that welcomed Black visitors amid racial discrimination.
- The descendants of the Bruce family are set to receive the land that could be worth up to $US75 ($AU102) million.
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Chief Duane Yellow Feather Shepard’s primary goal is to defend his tribe. His top priority is the Bruce family, his extended relatives whose descendants are on track to receive land taken from them nearly a century ago.
It’s been a challenge for years to reobtain the beachfront property seized from Charles and Willa Bruce – a couple who purchased land in Manhattan Beach, California and created a “sanctuary” for Black residents to enjoy the beach amid racial discrimination in the early 1900s.
“It was a very important place because there was no other place along the coast of California where African Americans could actually go and enjoy the water,” Shepard, the Bruce family historian and spokesperson, told Insider.
Bruce’s Beach Lodge faced intimidation from white residents and the Ku Klux Klan, but the couple didn’t back down, Shepard said. The property was eventually taken from the family in 1924 by the city council, which used eminent domain under the guise of building a park. It remained untouched for years.
Willa and Charles only received only about $US14,000 ($AU19,037) in compensation after taking legal action, according to the Los Angeles Times. Officials previously told CNN the land is worth approximately $US75 ($AU102) million that subsequent generations of the Bruce family have missed out on. Shepard said the land was worth between $US35 ($AU48) and $US75 ($AU102) million, but officials told Insider in a statement the land has not yet been assessed and would be “in the coming months.”
It wasn’t until 2007 that a plaque was made to acknowledge the Bruces, but it contained “misinformation,” Shepard said. The plaque points to Gregory Peck, a white landowner, saying he “made it possible” for the beachfront property to be open to “all people.”
Peck’s role in securing the land for Black visitors has since been widely disputed, as The LA Times reported last year that the developer’s property was guarded by security, forcing beachgoers to walk an extra half mile to the ocean.
As crowds gathered across the country in response to the police killing of George Floyd in March 2020, the Bruce family’s mission to get their land back underwent a refreshed effort in collaboration with local activists.
After reading a blog post on the property’s significance, Kavon Ward took an interest in the issue of Bruce’s Beach and set up an event to raise awareness on Juneteenth last year.
“It was just something in my spirit that said that it [the land] was taken… it needs to be given back,” Ward, who is now the founder of Justice for Bruce’s Beach, told Insider. “And I think energetically and subconsciously every move I made worked toward that.”
LA County is poised to move forward with returning the property to descendants of the original owners
A lifeguard facility currently resides on the land where the Bruce resort once stood. The land has been owned by Los Angeles County since 1995, and before then, the state owned the property.
“When I first realized that the county owned the property that was once Willa and Charles Bruce’s Beach Lodge, I knew that returning it to the Bruce family was the right thing to do,” Hahn told CBS LA in a statement. “But this is the first time a government has done anything like this, and there were a lot of questions about how it would work.”
Officials released a report earlier this month detailing steps to return the property, including evaluating the land’s value and certifying the property’s legal heirs. The county board of supervisors on July 13 voted in favor of moving forward with the plan once greenlit by the state, per the Daily Breeze.
Despite the official steps, Ward and Shepard told Insider that the Manhattan Beach city council has yet to apologize to the family.
“Our next step will be, once we get that land restored to us, is to go after them for the restitution, for the loss of revenue for 96 years of our family from the business, the loss of generational wealth, and the punitive damages for their collusion with the Ku Klux Klan in disenfranchising our family,” Shepard added.