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California returns beachfront land seized from Black family almost 100 years ago

The ownership of Bruce’s Beach has been returned to the descendants of Willa and Charles Bruce.

Gavin Newsom Los Angeles Times via Getty Imag

A Black family’s beachfront property that was seized by the government in 1924 has finally been returned to the descendants of its original owners, PEOPLE reports. On Thursday (Sept. 30), California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed Senate Bill 796 into law, returning ownership of Bruce’s Beach back to the descendants of Willa and Charles Bruce.

“As we move to remedy this nearly century-old injustice, California takes another step furthering our commitment to making the California Dream a reality for communities that were shamefully shut out by a history of racist exclusion,” Newsom said in a statement. “We know our work is just beginning to make amends for our past and California will not shy from confronting the structural racism and bias that people of color face to this day.”

“I thank the Bruce family, Sen. [Steven] Bradford, the Los Angeles County Supervisors and all those who fought to keep the legacy of this place alive and deliver this long overdue justice,” Newsom added.

The bill signing was marked by a ceremony on Thursday, which Anthony Bruce — Willa and Charles’ great-great-grandson — attended. According to the Los Angeles Times, the Bruce couple initially purchased the land for $1,225 in 1912 and turned it into an oceanfront resort and thriving community for Black families and travelers who, at the time, were shut out of other beaches due to racial segregation.

The area was targeted by nearby white residents and the Ku Klux Klan, and Manhattan Beach city officials seized the property in 1924, condemning the neighborhood through “eminent domain.” City officials claimed they needed the land to build a park, but the property remained untouched for multiple decades.

Los Angeles County later gained ownership of Bruce’s Beach and, upon realizing this, Los Angeles County Supervisor Janice Hahn set out to return the land to the Bruce family. California Sen. Bradford authored a bill to immediately transfer ownership of the land back to the Bruces, which the state legislature passed unanimously last month.

“This is a milestone for us and I want to thank not only Gov. Newsom for signing this bill into law, but Sen. Bradford for his leadership and the entire state legislature for their unanimous support,” Hahn in a statement.

“The work is far from done,” she continued. “Now that L.A. County officially has the authority to transfer this property, my goal these next several months will be to transfer this property in a way that not only works for the Bruce family, but is a model that other local governments can follow. Returning Bruce’s Beach can and should set a precedent for this nation and I know that all eyes will be on Los Angeles County as this work gets underway.”

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