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93 years after being taken, the land of Bruce’s Beach in Southern California could be back with his family by the end of July

Two parcels of oceanfront property in Manhattan Beach could be back in the hands of his heritage heirs by the end of next month – 93 years after the original owners, who were black, had their property taken away from them. ownership through racially motivated eminent domain.

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors will vote next week to approve a deal to formally return the land, which was once a resort called Bruce’s Beach Lodge, to the descendants of the original owners and then lease it back to them.

Returning the land to the Bruce family, supporters say, will be the nation’s first tangible act of redress.

“This is the first time (to return land to a black family) in the history of the United States,” Anthony Bruce, great-great-grandson of the original owners, said Thursday, June 23. “We hope to be responsible stewards of this legacy.

Supervisors will almost certainly agree to the deal on Tuesday, June 28. And after a 30-day closure, Marcus and Derrick Bruce, great-grandsons of owners Willa and Charles Bruce, will finally inherit the 7,000 square feet of beachfront property, valued at $20 million.

The county will transfer the land to the Bruces with no restrictions on its use.

Anthony Bruce, the son of Derrick Bruce, leads the Bruce Family LLC which will manage the property.

Anthony and his brother, Michael, will also share the inheritance equally with their father and uncle, said Duane Shepard, a descendant of Bruce and spokesperson for the family.

Once the Bruces receive the deed, according to the agreement, they will lease the property to the county for $413,000 a year for two years. After that, the family will have the option of selling the property to the county for $20 million.

Both parties will pay closing costs, although the county will reimburse the Bruces $50,000, according to the agreement. This money must then be donated to a non-profit legal service provider who assists the Bruces in transactions.

The Bruces will be responsible for all property taxes for the current fiscal year and beyond.

LA County currently operates its field lifeguard training station. This use would continue for the term of the lease, with the county paying all operating and maintenance costs, as per the agreement.

There is no plan yet on what to do with the property after the lease ends, Antony Bruce said, as everyone is getting together to see where they can go as a family.

Tuesday’s vote will be the cornerstone of more than a year of legislative maneuvering to return the land to the Bruces.

This arduous process began in April 2021 with the introduction of state Senate Bill 796, which removed restrictions on deeds that prevented the county from transferring property. County supervisors backed the bill, which Governor Gavin Newsom signed into law in September.

The two plots once housed a black-owned and operated resort as a recreational haven in the early 20th century, at a time when African Americans did not have access to the coast.

But Manhattan Beach used eminent domain to take over the two parcels owned by Willa and Charles Bruce, along with other properties. The reason behind the eminent domain effort, according to historical records, was to push black people out of Manhattan Beach.

The city still owns the land just east of the old Bruce’s Beach Lodge. This land sat vacant for decades before the city turned it into a park; eventually the recreation area was renamed Bruce’s Beach Park.

The plots the Bruces owned — bordered by 26th and 27th Streets, and Manhattan Avenue and The Strand — became state property in 1948. The state gave the plots to LA County in 1995.

The motion to complete the restitution of the Bruce lands was co-authored by supervisors Janice Hahn and Holly Mitchell.

Hahn, whose supervisory district included Manhattan Beach before the redistricting, said in a statement this week that it was time for Bruce’s descendants to be able to rebuild the wealth that had been denied to their family for generations.

“We can never right the injustice that has been done to the Bruce family,” Hahn said, “but it’s a start, and it’s the right thing to do.”

Mitchell — who now represents Manhattan Beach after the 10-year redistricting process — also said in a statement that the land should never have been taken.

“Now we stand on the precipice of long overdue redemption and justice,” Mitchell said, giving credit to “a global coalition of activists who have fought for years to bring justice to the family. Bruce”.

The battle to return the Bruce’s Beach packages to the family began with activist Kavon Ward in June 2020, just days after the murder of George Floyd at the hands of police.

Ward planned a picnic at Bruce’s Beach Park to celebrate June 19the anniversary of when the last group of enslaved African Americans in Galveston, Texas discovered they were free on June 19, 1865, two years after the Emancipation Proclamation.

At the event, Ward also drew attention to why the 2020 picnic spot, originally developed as a black recreation site, was now a hilly, grassy public recreation area.

This event sparked a movement that introduced state legislation to remove restrictions on the Bruce’s Beach Act.

“I’m excited,” Ward said Thursday. “I am full of gratitude to have been used as a vessel to help make this happen.”

While Ward said she always knew she was called to do something like thisshe said she never imagined it would be this big.

“I’m still a little surprised,” Ward said, “because I never imagined that I would be at the heart of such drastic justice and change in this country.”

And there is more change to come, she says.

Ward’s national organization, Where is My Land, works with at least five other California families who have had their land taken away. Where is my land tries to recover these lands and/or obtain financial restitution for these families.

“We’re celebrating this win,” Ward said, “but we’re preparing to keep fighting.

“Black land (being) plundered is an epidemic that has affected black people across this country,” Ward added. “Not only is it time for restorative justice, but it’s also time for people who claim to be defending black lives to stop talking about what needs to change and actually talk about the action it takes to create this change.”

While heirs aren’t restricted in how they use the property, Ward said, they could be “stuck between a rock and a hard place” because Manhattan Beach has the power to change zoning laws on types of properties that can operate in its coastal area. .

If the family decides to sell to the county, Ward said, they would like to see that $20 million allocated to subsidized housing for black entrepreneurs like Willa and Charles, and artists, activists and actors who have moved to California to pursue their dreams and are now homeless because they cannot afford to pay rent.

“As a black land back movement, we have a social responsibility to not only reclaim black land,” Ward said, “but to provide safe, secure and comfortable housing for fellow black entrepreneurs who cannot live their dreams fully. ”

The heir verification process delayed the transfer, Shepard said, because more than 100 people falsely claimed to be direct descendants of Bruce.

“It’s been a battle,” Shepard said. “I’m just happy, really relieved that the family has finally come to the point where the family is going to get their land back.”

Shepard had been researching his family’s genealogy since 1994, he said, and in 2017 he discovered Willa and Charles’ ties to himself and other members of the Bruce family.

“It’s been a long journey,” he said, “but for it to happen so quickly since 2020 I could never have imagined.”

Anthony Bruce said Thursday that he and his family are shocked, but grateful, that this is happening in the present day. The family also wants to live up to the legacy of Willa and Charles Bruce.

“The few descendants who remain alive,” he said, “will strive to ensure that the work and the success (of Willa and Charles) are not in vain.”

Although it was a long time coming, he added, it came at the right time because when Floyd, a black man, was murdered, many people became aware and cared more about rights. of African Americans in the country.

“Even though this property has been here for (so) many years,” said Anthony Bruce, “unfortunately it took the death of a human being to see people being abused, treated unfairly and justice not being achieved. is not returned”.

The timing is no coincidence, he said.

“My dad took (my brother and I) when we were younger to California and we saw Bruce’s Beach,” Anthony Bruce said. “He told us this was our land and we had to fight to get it back.”

Other people might be able to look at their own family history, Anthony Bruce said, “and really think about what happened in the past and how to fix some of those things.

“We have been fighting for a long time,” he added. “If your family is trying to get something that belongs to them, don’t give up the fight, keep going.”