A Black California family that once owned a beachfront property but had it seized by the government decided to sell it back to Los Angeles County after winning a long battle to reclaim the family’s oceanfront property improperly seized through eminent domain during the Jim Crow era.
On Jan. 3, Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Chair Janice Hahn announced that the descendants agreed to sell the Bruce’s Beach property to the county for $20 million.
“The seizure of Bruce’s Beach nearly a century ago was an injustice inflicted upon not just Willa and Charles Bruce but generations of their descendants who almost certainly would have been millionaires,” Hahn’s statement read.
The Bruces purchased the land in 1912 for $1,225, according to CNN. They developed the property into a resort, with a cafe and other facilities, that served Black families at a time of widespread racial discrimination.
But White neighbors and the Ku Klux Klan harassed the Black entrepreneurs, making it difficult for them to run their business. Ultimately, the city of Manhattan Beach improperly took the Bruces’ property through eminent domain in 1924, paying the couple a fraction of its value.
The property was transferred in 1995 to Los Angeles County. But it was only in recent years that county officials began taking steps that led to California Gov. Gavin Newsom signing legislation in 2021 that authorized the return of Bruce’s Beach to the couple’s descendants.
According to The Los Angeles Times, some activists called the transfer a potential turning point in the nation’s shameful history of blocking generational wealth by improperly taking property from Black Amerians.
Since the transfer, the county was leasing the property from the family for $413,000 a year. Instead of continuing the lease agreement, the descendants opted for a lump sum sale.
“What was stolen from the family was the property, but what the property represented was the ability to create and preserve and group and pass down generational wealth,” the Bruce family attorney George Fatheree told The Times.
“And by allowing the family now to have certainty in selling this property to the county, taking the proceeds of that sale, and investing it in their own futures — that’s restoring some of what the family lost. I think we all need to respect the family’s decision to know what’s in its best interest,” he continued.
In her statement, Hahn said she was a strong supporter of returning Bruce’s Beach to the family because it was the right thing to do, adding that it enables the descendants to benefit from the generational wealth that was stolen from them.
“This is what reparations look like and it is a model that I hope governments across the country will follow,” she said.
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