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Officials Lead Effort To Return Bruce's Beach To The Black Family It Was Taken From 100 Years Ago

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Manhattan Beach Pier. Chava Sanchez/LAist
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Both state and L.A. County officials are taking another step toward give two parcels of land in the Manhattan Beach area back to the African American family it was taken from nearly a hundred years ago, under the guise of eminent domain.

Supervisor Janice Hahn is leading the effort to right what she calls a historical wrong."As one of the descendants said, they used the law to commit a crime, " she said.

WHAT HAPPENED

Manhattan Beach used eminent domain laws to seize the Bruce family's land, where the family had a thriving beach resort. As Hahn explains, the land seizure was the final shove, after years of harassment by the Klu Klux Klan failed to push the Black community out of the area.

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"They slashed people's tires, the KKK even attempted to set the Bruce Lodge on fire and succeeded in burning down a local Black family's home near this property," Hahn said.

Back in the 1920's, Manhattan Beach agreed to pay Willa and Charles Bruce about $14,000 for their property, a fraction of its worth by today's standards. To make matters worse, the family's lawyer says the city took years to make that payment, forcing them to leave without any income.

They were then barred from purchasing new land.

The excuse Manhattan Beach gave for removing the Bruce family's business, and the surrounding Black community, was the need for a public park. But the land sat empty for decades before a park was built.

Today, in addition to that small park, the L.A. County Fire Department has its lifeguard training headquarters on the land.

Chief Duane Yellowfeather Shepard is a descendent and representative of the Bruce Family. He says when the land and business was taken away, the family was robbed of the chance to build generational wealth and is now demanding:

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"Restitution for the loss of enterprise and punitive damages for the collusion of the institutional racism of this city that railroaded out family out of here."

STATE EFFORT

On Monday, California Sen. Steven Bradford will introduce a piece of legislation that would make it possible to give back the land. Bradford has also been appointed to the newly formed state reparations task force.

Bradford says that his bill, SB 796, and legislation like AB3121, "will explore the possibilities of reparations and set a power precedence for compensation owed to African Americans in this country."

WHAT NEXT

A change in ownership of the two land parcels will require a two-third majority passing of two bills and support from the L.A. County Board of Supervisors to approve it.

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If that happens, the Bruce Family is considering leasing the land back to the County.

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