Beach properties taken from black owners to give back

A piece of prime beachfront real estate in Southern California was returned to the descendants of the Black owners Tuesday, nearly a century after the lot was occupied by the city of Manhattan Beach.

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to return the land to the families of its owners, Charles and Willa Bruce.

The resort, known as Bruce’s Beach, had provided black families with a place to enjoy California life and was a labor of love for the couple. They bought the land in 1912 for $1,225 and built several facilities, including a cafe and changing rooms.

But harassment from white neighbors and the Ku Klux Klan tore their dreams apart.

The final blow came in 1924 when the city took over ownership of the eminent domain and paid the couple a fraction of what they asked. The city wanted the land for a park.

The property — now valued at $20 million — was transferred to Los Angeles County in 1995. The houses immediately adjacent to the property have price tags of about $7 million each.

Last year, Governor Gavin Newsom signed legislation that would allow the county to return beachfront property to their descendants.

The new law was drafted by Senator Steve Bradford, who sits on the state’s newly formed reparations task force.

“This is what reparations look like,” Bradford said, insisting that the county not give anything to the Bruce family, but simply return their stolen property.

Tuesday’s vote completed a proposal by Holly Mitchell, chair of the county board of supervisors, to return the tract of land that is now a park with a lawn and a lifeguard training facility. “We’re not giving this land back, we’re giving it back to its rightful owners,” said Mitchell, calling it “an historic moment for our county.”

The vote outlined plans to return the beachfront property to the Bruce family. County officials will lease the property from the Bruces under a 24-month lease for a total cost of $413,000 per year to maintain the facility.

“All the terror that is still in our hearts regarding these criminal acts committed against innocent people of our family, it is important for people to understand, more than the money that was lost. We lost our family because of this family spokesman Duane Yellow Feather Shepard told CNN’s Stephanie Elam.

“This is a step towards justice,” he added.

County Supervisor Janice Hahn, who worked with Mitchell on the motion, held back the tears when she told the board, “This is going to be one of the most important things I’ve ever done.”

The decision was the result of a two-year effort by the grassroots movement Justice for Bruce’s Beach.

Kavon Ward, founder of Justice for Bruce’s Beach, told CNN the decision Tuesday was the fulfillment of her dream of seeing the country again.

“I feel a sense of peace. I feel joy. I feel honored that the Most High would use me as a vessel to make this happen, to be the catalyst for this happening,” she said.