[Manhattan Beach, CA – April 10, 2020] Protest is an American right. Some who do not like it or attempt to marginalize its effectiveness always ask the rhetorical question why is it necessary? The strategy of a protest is not a fix-all or immediate remedy. Instead, its main thrust is to raise awareness of an issue or an incident. Bruce’s Beach has been around for over 100 years. It pops in the news every so often then disappears. The George Floyd murder on May 25, 2020 brought a public outcry not seen in years. People from all walks of lives and various ethnicities, including many Whites raised their voices to the injustice they witnessed from social media footage. A residual effect of the Floyd issue elevated the Black Lives Matter movement to a special status, whereas four years earlier they were vilified and mischaracterized as some type of violent force. Their presence created an awareness for many to allow their voice to be heard on social issues around the globe.
Manhattan Beach is a tony beach community nestled along the shorelines of Southern California. It has the appearance of a very progressive tolerant community. But like all things it has its history and was recently thrust in the news on April 9, 2021 by Los Angeles County Supervisor Janice Hahn during a press conference led by her, Supervisor Holly Mitchell, State Senator Steven Bradford and various public officials. It just so happens that even though the property is in Manhattan Beach, the County of Los Angeles is the current owner and that is why Hahn led the conference.
Bruce’s Beach was a venue created by Charles and Willa Bruce in 1912. Their goal was pretty straightforward – to create a place for African-Americans to enjoy the beach. History and context are two important parallels. Southern California, specifically the greater Los Angeles area was experiencing a population boom. As Slavery was legally outlawed and followed by Reconstruction many decided it was better to “start-over” than deal with Jim Crow or “southern traditions.” Those African-Americans who could make the migration from the South did so. Unfortunately, Jim Crow as a vestige of White Supremacy followed them as it was dominant in areas some thought were off-limits, such as Manhattan Beach.
As a native of Los Angeles I had never heard of this place! I was fortunate as my parents stressed education and I have been blessed to travel and experience other cultures. About ten years ago I made a decision to become more informed, particularly African-American history. Racism was happening then and it still permeates our society today.” Larry Wiggs, II
A new beginning
The Bruce’s left New Mexico and discovered Manhattan Beach. Mr. Bruce was a pullman porter so he was away most of the time. Thus, Bruce’s Beach was opened and operated by Willa. Even though the venture was successful, some White’s simply could not accept the fact of African-American’s creating a haven for themselves. The Bruce’s dealt with harassment, violence and other acts of organized intimidation until finally the City of Manhattan Beach used eminent domain to force them out. The Bruce’s dream of tranquility and peace faced the reality of overt racial discrimination. In 1912, they paid $1,225 to acquire their coveted piece of property. In 1924 The city paid them $14,500 as compensation and told them to move on.
The Bruce’s story is compelling. Unfortunately, there are many noteworthy examples of African-Americans being stripped of their resources and the final chapter of what happened has never been told, hidden in recorded documents or marginalized as if nothing nefarious occurred.
What Hahn communicated yesterday is historic. You hear all of the time of the wealth-gap? For many African Americans the gap is a direct result of their ancestors having their property or assets stripped from them, thus there was nothing to “pass down.” At the same time, some whites will rightfully argue they were not involved in Slavery or did not create any of the ills which caused the gap. Historians have rightfully defined “white privilege.” The Bruce’s Beach issue puts the topic right back on the table – the legacy of wealth.
Why is it hard to discuss Reparations?
Reparations appears more complicated than it really is. History notes various groups in the past have been made whole in some fashion. It only turns into a huge problem or something not to be discussed when attempting to deal with the descendants of enslaved Africans. You heard the lady in the clip pose the question what is all of the fuss about? After all, eminent domain is a legal process municipalities can use to acquire property for the public good the Bruce’s were paid something! The issue specifically related to the Bruce’s is the city wanted to rid itself of a racial problem and used eminent domain as the resolution. The question remains what legacy could the Bruce’s have left their heirs had race not been the issue to force them to leave?
I’m from Burbank and saw the news about the beach, so I needed to see it for myself. I knew about certain groups being discriminated against but I was shocked to see racial covenants were enforced to keep Blacks from buying homes in many parts of Los Angeles.” An anonymous middle-aged White man
The word reparations scares the hell out of people, primarily because they do not understand it. Interestingly in the past political leaders or those in power acknowledge making various ethnic groups “whole” who have been harmed by White Supremacy or racist behavior as a necessary remedy towards reconciliation. That is, unless those harmed are African-American. Hopefully Hahn and other leaders will spur a nationwide crusade that it is one thing to apologize yet it is another to repay and truly make whole to ensure the descendants can attempt to enjoy the same legacy that so many take for granted. First things first. While reimbursement or reparation dollars have not been specified, for now the energy is to return the property to Bruce’s heirs. There is also discussion of the County reverting from owner to tenant of the Bruce heirs, as a major part of the property is currently being used by them.
The Bruce’s Beach incident is American history so here is a recommended bibliography for additional reading: