S.E. Williams

In April 2021 Los Angeles County officials announced plans to right an historic wrong perpetrated against a Black family nearly 100 years ago and on Thursday, September 30, 2021 California Governor Newsom signed legislation making good on that promise.

In the process he opened the way for the County of Los Angeles to return a stretch of beachfront known as Bruce’s Beach to the rightful heirs of Willa and Charles Bruce.   

The legislation, SB 796, not only authorizes the land be returned but also requires the removal of all existing legal restrictions on the property’s use by the end of 2021. 

Although this action moves the Bruce heirs closer to resolution, a few more process steps need to be taken by Los Angeles County before the property transfer is final. 

Governor Newsom signs legislation to return Bruce’s Beach to family.

Earlier this summer the county released a detailed plan describing the process steps it will follow for returning the land to the Bruce family heirs. The plan includes a requirement for the LA County Treasurer and Tax Collector to work with officials in the Public Administrator to identify the Bruce family’s legal heirs.  

Other efforts on behalf of the county detailed in the plan include efforts to ease the tax burden on the heirs when the property is transferred, among other considerations.  

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In 1924 the City of Manhattan Beach used eminent domain to force Willa and Charles Bruce, the city’s first Black landowners, off their land. 

The couple not only owned beachfront property, they also ran a resort for Black families during a time when beaches in the strand were segregated. 

The righting of such historical wrongs perpetrated against Black landowners is rare though the story of segregation along the state’s beaches is not. Part of California’s racist history can be traced through the many challenges Blacks, like the Bruces, who owned beachfront property, endured. 

It was an insidious form of racism that impacted Black lives far beyond those who owned beachfront property and extended to any Black who sought recreational access to the state’s rolling shores. The Black Voice News Mapping Black California’s “Segregation by the Sea,” storymap offers a revelatory look at the history of Blacks and California beaches.

Header photo and slideshow photos courtesy of Gov. Newsom Office