Editorial: Justice at last: L.A. County to return beachfront property to its Black owners

The Manhattan Beach City Council last week voted to “acknowledge” and “condemn” the city’s role nearly a century ago in booting the Bruce family from their property and razing the resort they ran there for Black people. But an official apology? No, the council couldn’t bring itself to express that level of contrition.

That’s shameful, because the city’s assault was not just against this one family, but against the very notion that Black Americans could own and develop desirable property, profit from it, build capital and provide one of only two opportunities along Los Angeles County’s storied shoreline for Black people to enjoy the beach.

But where the South Bay city fell short, the county is stepping up. It now owns much of the property where the resort once stood and operates a lifeguard headquarters and training center there. Spurred by Supervisor Janice Hahn, the county will return the land to the Bruce family, and rent it back from them. The move will require state legislation.

“Racism and discrimination are not just legacies left behind from other places in the country — they have happened right here in our own backyard,” Hahn said earlier this year when describing the forced sale of the Bruces’ property.

That’s putting it mildly. In 1924, when proceedings against the Bruces’ property began, the Los Angeles County sheriff was a former member of the Ku Klux Klan. The next L.A. mayor was a Klan member. Neighboring Inglewood was still reeling from a deadly Klan attack on a suspected bootlegger, and the Klansmen’s trial and acquittal, two years earlier. The city of L.A. segregated its public pools, previously open to all. Manhattan Beach and most of the other cities south of Slauson Avenue were a collection of “sundown towns” where non-whites would be run off — or worse — by local police.

People without family wealth were told then, as now, to pick themselves up by their bootstraps with hard work and smart investments, and that’s what Willa and Charles Bruce did when they bought their property in 1912. But after a decade Manhattan Beach wasn’t having it any longer. There was to be no resort, no accumulated wealth, no American Dream for Black people.

Opposition in modern-day Manhattan Beach to even apologize has been fierce. Why the Bruces and not all the other Black families who were robbed of their nest-eggs in earlier generations, too often leaving their descendants in poverty instead of sitting atop real estate or business empires like so many white families?

Well, why, indeed? The Bruce family is getting its property back only because its story became known. But the fact that there are many other stories of other families yet untold is no reason to keep the Bruces from their inheritance. It is high time that their property — and with it a measure of justice — is returned to them.

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