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Black family whose ancestors were robbed of LA beach resort may get land back

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A black family whose ancestors were robbed of the beach resort they owned in Manhattan Beach almost 100 years ago may finally get the land back.

A new bill, if passed, will permit Los Angeles County officials to transfer the site, which is currently run as a lifeguard center, to the descendants of Charles and Willa Bruce — who lost their land and business when the city seized it in 1924, the Los Angeles Times reported.

State legislation is needed because of restrictions placed on the property when the state transferred the two parcels to L.A. County in 1995.

“We stand here today to introduce a bill that will correct this gross injustice and allow the land to be returned to the Bruce family,” state Sen. Steven Bradford (D-Gardena) said Friday when formally introducing the bill. “It is my hope that this legislation will not be the last in a series of actions by the state to address centuries of atrocious actions against black Americans.”

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 A couple sit on the lifeguard tower between 26th and 27th Streets at Bruce's Beach in Manhattan Beach.
In 1924, the city condemned the area, seizing more than 20 properties through eminent domain.
Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Bruce family representative Duane Shepard Sr. thanked those who fought to get his family’s land back Friday while slamming Manhattan Beach city officials for refusing to formally apologize for the historic wrong.

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“We reserve our rights on this Earth to be men, to be women, to be human beings, to be given the rights of human beings, to be given the respect of human beings, in this country in this day and in this society in this damn city,” Shepard said.

Bruce family representative Chief Duane Yellowfeather Shepard speaks at a press conference in Manhattan Beach.
Bruce family representative Chief Duane Yellowfeather Shepard speaks at a press conference in Manhattan Beach.
MediaNews Group via Getty Images

The Bruce family saga began in 1912, when Willa Bruce bought the first of two lots along the Strand between 26th and 27th streets for $1,225. Her husband, Charles, worked as a dining-car chef on trains. Willa turned the site into a thriving resort for black families who, because of racism, could not enjoy other beach areas along the coast.

The place became known as “Bruce’s Beach” and other black families moved to the area and built their own summer cottages.

Bruce's Beach
A new bill, if passed, will permit Los Angeles County officials to transfer the site, which is currently run as a lifeguard center.
MediaNews Group via Getty Images

The Bruces and their guests endured threats and harassment from the Ku Klux Klan, among others, for years. Then, in 1924, the city condemned the area, seizing more than 20 properties through eminent domain.

Officials justified the move by claiming there was an urgent need for a public park. But the land stood empty for decades and was not turned into a park until years later, the LA Times said.

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Bruce's Beach
State legislation is needed because of restrictions placed on the property when the state transferred the two parcels to L.A. County in 1995.
Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

LA County Supervisor Janice Hahn, who initiated the crusade to return the land, said the county is negotiating with the Bruce family about what’s next. If the bill passes as expected, the county will likely lease the land from the family.

“I believe that the best part about this is that we will be allowed to transfer the property back to the descendants of the family and let them decide what they want to do,” she said. “The Bruce family had their California dream stolen from them.”

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