July 5, 2022
Homeownership is commonly considered the most common way families can build generational wealth. In the United States people of color have a lower rate of home ownership than whites. Statistics indicate that among minorities Blacks have the lowest rate of home ownership. Home ownership was not an option for slaves. After slavery Blacks had major economic disadvantage along with racism that created obstacles to home ownership.
The story of Charles and Willa Bruce and Bruce’s Beach in Los Angeles County illustrates how racism has impacted the 110 year history of the Bruce property.
Manhattan Beach is a city of about 35,000 in Los Angeles County and about five miles from Los Angeles International Airport. In 1912 Charles and Willa Bruce, a Black couple, purchased beach front property there for $1,225. The Bruces built facilities that became a gathering place for Black families during an era when beaches were commonly segregated. Their business was successful and attracted relentless harassment from racist neighbors and the Ku Klux Klan. In 1924 the Manhattan Beach City Council took their property through eminent domain. The council claimed the land was urgently needed for a park and then it sat empty for decades. The Bruces spent the rest of their lives working as diner cooks.
In September of 2021 Governor Gavin Newsom signed legislation that would enable the county to return the beachfront property to their descendants. Some estimates indicate the property is now worth $75 million. On June 28, 2022, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to give the land back to the family of Charles and Willa Bruce. Plans are in place for the family to rent Bruce’s Beach to the county and the county has the right to purchase the property for no more than $20 million.