Returning Bruce's Beach in California to the Black family who originally owned it
In the early 1900s, Willa and Charles Bruce were among a wave of Black Americans who had migrated to California from across the country. The entrepreneurs owned two plots of oceanfront property in what is now the Los Angeles suburb of Manhattan Beach, where they opened a resort known as "Bruce's Beach." It was among the first oceanfront properties that was owned by and serviced Black residents.
"This was an opportunity for a leisure business to provide services to African Americans who wanted to come to the beach," said Dr. Alison Rose Jefferson, a historian who has spent years researching the history of Black Americans in California beach towns. "They would be less harassed in this area because there was this African American business that could provide them with, you know, something to drink, or a place to change their clothes."
Then members of the local White population started trying to run them out.
"So even while the business was successful, from day one, they were harassed with tactics to chase them out of the area," Jefferson explained.
Volunteer police officers were enlisted by a local developer to keep the Bruces' clients from the beach. Residents, including members of the Ku Klux Klan, began a harassment campaign.
Despite threats and acts of violence, the Bruce family refused to leave. Eventually, though, they didn't have a choice.
"The city said that it was taking this land-- the eminent domain to build a park," Jefferson said. "And the Bruces… and some of the other families… fought this effort, but they weren't successful in the fight."
The Bruces and four other Black families had their property taken by the city via eminent domain. The Bruces requested $70,000 for their property, but the city ultimately paid them just $14,500.
The family then left Manhattan Beach for good. The city population is now less than 1% Black.
The land that once housed the resort is now a lifeguard training center. Local realtors told 60 Minutes+ that, today, the Bruces' plots would be worth about $20 million.
This week, 60 Minutes+ correspondent Wesley Lowery reports on Bruce's Beach and the efforts to return the land to the Bruce family. Those efforts have been met with strong opposition from some Manhattan Beach residents, beginning with a 2006 fight to change the name of the park near the former resort land back to "Bruce's Beach."
Former Manhattan Beach mayor Mitch Ward helped lead the movement to change the name.
"Race is a very difficult issue to talk about," Ward told 60 Minutes+. "Even when you're talking about renaming a park for a Black or a brown person. So I'm sure there was a lot of that involved. There were individuals-- I lost friends as a result."
The city voted three-to-two in favor of the name change. But as more people learned about what happened to the Bruces, some residents began to feel the city hadn't done enough. Now, a bill is making its way through the California Statehouse that would clear the way for the property to be given back to the Bruces.
"It's not inheriting. This is something that we have already owned," 38-year-old Anthony Bruce told Lowery as they walked along the shoreline of the property where the resort once stood. "They stole it from us and so we want it back."
Bruce, who currently works as a security guard in Tampa, Florida, said regaining the land would change his family's lives.
See more of the story on 60 Minutes+. Streaming now on Paramount+.
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