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California returns beachfront property to descendants of Black family forced out

The property owners faced deep racism, including an attack from the Ku Klux Klan, before Manhattan Beach officials seized their land through eminent domain in the 1920s.

(CN) — California Governor Gavin Newsom signed legislation Thursday clearing the way for Los Angeles County to return a sprawling oceanfront parcel to the descendants of the Black property owners who were expelled from the land nearly a century ago.

The signing of the bill by state Senator Steven Bradford removes the state’s statutory restrictions on the use and ownership of the land and is the culmination of the efforts to return the property to the family forced out by racism.

“Now there is nothing holding back the county from doing the right thing,” Bradford said in a written statement. “When the land is returned to the Bruces, we will have proven that it is never too late to correct injustice and that there are a multitude of ways to do so.”

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously this past April to cede the land back to descendants of Willa and Charles Bruce, who purchased the Manhattan Beach property in 1912 and established a resort where Black people could flock to enjoy the California coast at a time when they were largely barred from accessing other establishments.  

The resort became the focus of racist assaults, from vandalism to a 1920 attack by the Ku Klux Klan that resulted in a Black family’s home being burned down. The Bruces faced deep resistance from local government, with Manhattan Beach officials voting to condemn the property in 1924 and later that year seizing it through eminent domain under the auspices of constructing a park.

“As we move to remedy this nearly century-old injustice, California takes another step furthering our commitment to making the California Dream a reality for communities that were shamefully shut out by a history of racist exclusion,” Newsom said in a statement. “We know our work is just beginning to make amends for our past, and California will not shy from confronting the structural racism and bias that people of color face to this day.”

Bradford said the Bruce Beach bill “sets the tone for the future of reparations in California” and he hopes to continue working with Newsom’s administration on similar issues.

Beyond the optimistic reactions to the bill signing, officials and public commenters alike cautioned there is more to be done.

“It says so much about Manhattan Beach that there’s only one local elected official here at the bill signing ceremony,” Los Angeles Times columnist Erika D. Smith tweeted.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, less than 1% of the Manhattan Beach population is Black and more than 73% of the city’s residents are non-Hispanic whites.

“The work is far from done. Now that LA County officially has the authority to transfer this property, my goal these next several months will be to transfer this property in a way that not only works for the Bruce family, but is a model that other local governments can follow,” said LA County Supervisor Janice Hahn, who co-wrote the April motion pushing the land transfer forward. “Returning Bruce’s Beach can and should set a precedent for this nation and I know that all eyes will be on Los Angeles County as this work gets underway.”

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