The Debate Around Bruce’s Beach

In 1912, Willa and Charles Bruce bought an oceanside plot along the Southern California coast, in what would become the city of Manhattan Beach.

The Bruces were among the first Black people to settle in the area, and they built a beachfront resort where other Black families could swim, lounge, eat and dance without being subject to racist harassment. Their success drew other Black landowners, part of a small elite group who overcame myriad obstacles to build wealth in the early 20th century.

But after neighbors complained of a “Negro invasion,” the city of Manhattan Beach in 1924 used eminent domain to condemn and seize the Bruce property and those of other Black families. The Bruces’ parcel eventually became a public park.

Last year, the Bruce family got their land back. In June, officials from Los Angeles County voted to transfer ownership of the property back to the Bruces’ descendants in what officials described as an effort to “right the wrongs of the past.”

The move was heralded as a model for reparations for Black Americans, and was believed to be the first time in American history that the government returned property to a Black family. The decision was especially closely watched in California, as the state is currently spearheading the nation’s most ambitious reparations effort.

But this year, things got more complicated. The Bruces announced they were selling the property back to Los Angeles County for $20 million. The land is zoned for public use, so they couldn’t easily develop it. And investing the proceeds from the sale would allow them to build up the generational wealth that they were stripped of nearly 100 years ago, they said.

Though the sale was a personal decision, it hasn’t entirely been seen that way. The Bruces’ choice to sell has led to a debate nationwide about how exactly reparations should and could work across the U.S., and has disappointed activists and others who had been so heartened by the land’s return to the family, my colleague Clyde McGrady recently reported.

More on California

Bruce’s Beach is “now part of a national narrative about what is owed to Black people in America for past injustice — and what Black people owe to one another in the larger quest for reparations,” Clyde wrote.

Clyde interviewed Silvester and Laurie Johnson, who didn’t know the Bruce family, but visited Bruce’s Beach in December on a trip to Los Angeles from Seattle. The Johnsons said they felt that, as a Black family, they were part of the larger struggle for justice, and therefore part of the Bruce story, too. They were saddened by the family’s decision to sell, they told Clyde.

“Your fight is bigger than you,” Laurie Johnson said.

But State Senator Steven Bradford, who leads California’s Reparations Task Force, said he supported the Bruce family’s decision. Bradford introduced the bill that allowed Los Angeles County to give back the land to the Bruce family last year.

“In no way does selling the property diminish the powerful example that the return of Bruce’s Beach represents in America,” Bradford told Clyde. “They were able to reclaim what was rightfully theirs.”

For more:

Read Clyde’s full article.

The rest of the news

Alligator ban overturned: A federal judge ruled this week that California could not ban the importation and sale of crocodile and alligator products, The Associated Press reports.

Winter weather: California is bracing for potential flooding and structural damage this week due to upcoming back-to-back atmospheric rivers.

Eric Garcetti’s nomination: The Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted Wednesday to advance the nomination of Garcetti, the former Los Angeles mayor, to be ambassador to India, allowing the nomination to go to the full Senate, The Los Angeles Times reports.

Newsom tests positive: Gov. Gavin Newsom tested positive for Covid-19 for the second time, and he will work remotely and self-isolate for five days, The Los Angeles Times reports.

Biden visit: The president plans to visit Monterey Park on Tuesday to call for tougher gun control measures.

Walgreens contract: After the pharmacy chain announced that it would stop selling an abortion pill in 21 states that had threatened legal action, Newsom said on Wednesday that the state “won’t be doing business” with Walgreens.


Blizzard death toll: After a severe winter storm, officials in the San Bernardino area are beginning to assess the damage and the number of people who have died.

Shortages and misconduct: Los Angeles County’s Board of Supervisors unanimously voted to fire its probation department chief over several crises within the department’s juvenile institutions, The Los Angeles Times reports.

Pride flag: The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to fly the Progress Pride flag at county offices daily this June in honor of Pride Month, The Los Angeles Times reports.


Temple dispute: A former Bakersfield City Council candidate was arrested on suspicion of trying to hire hit men to kill leaders of one of the city’s largest Sikh temples, The Bakersfield Californian reports.


Eviction moratorium: A San Francisco supervisor proposed a 60-day extension of the city’s Covid eviction moratorium after the mayor’s state of emergency ends, The San Francisco Chronicle reports.

Tesla crash: U.S. investigators suspect that a Tesla was operating on an automated driving system when it crashed into a fire truck in Contra Costa County last month, The Associated Press reports.

What we’re eating

Baked lemon pudding.

Where we’re traveling

Death Valley, where visitors are enjoying the famously scorching park’s cool season.

And before you go, some good news

The remarkable rainstorms that have hit California over the last few months have set off an epic mushroom season, with hunters finding dozens of never-before-described species and spotting mushrooms popping up in city parks and sidewalk cracks, National Geographic reports.

“It’s a super-shroom!” said Justen Whittall, a botanist at Santa Clara University — the mushroom equivalent of a wildflower “superbloom.” Experts say that the mushroom season in Southern California in particular, typically too parched to produce a mushroom bounty, is probably the largest in 20 years.

Thanks for reading. I’ll be back tomorrow. — Soumya

P.S. Here’s today’s Mini Crossword.

Briana Scalia and Lyna Bentahar contributed to California Today. You can reach the team at [email protected].

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