Bruce’s Beach Returned to Heirs of Wronged Black Couple: ‘This Is a Victory for the Faithful and the Oppressed’

The deed to Bruce's Beach was formally handed over to descendants of the Black couple that had the land stolen from them nearly a century ago. The ceremony was held in Manhattan Beach, CA on Wednesday, July 20, 2022. (Credit: Twitter/@SupJaniceHahn)

With waves in the Pacific Ocean as a backdrop, Los Angeles County leaders hosted a public ceremony Wednesday at Bruce’s Beach, and formally presented the deed to descendants of the Black couple who had the land stripped from them nearly a century ago.

Willa and Charles Bruce purchased the one acre property south of Los Angeles for $1,225 in 1912. They operated a resort for Black residents who were not welcome at other beaches, but the city of Manhattan Beach condemned the resort and other surrounding parcels of land in 1929, following protests by angry white residents and the Ku Klux Klan.

Extended family member and spokesman for the descendants, Chief Duane “Yellow Feather” Shepard, said the spirits of Willa and Charles Bruce were watching over Wednesday’s event.

“They’re here. And they’re smiling,” Shepard said. “This is a victory for the faithful and the oppressed in this country that has been long in coming for 450 years.”

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Charles and Willa Bruce (Credit: City of Manhattan Beach)
Charles and Willa Bruce (Credit: City of Manhattan Beach)

Shepard thanked the family’s many supporters, including Brad Pitt’s Plan B production company, which is developing a miniseries about the fight to get the land back.

Plan B “is giving us the opportunity to make sure our story is told into perpetuity on the worldwide media stage,” Shepard said.

For decades, Bruce family descendants fought to get the land back. In 2021, California State Sen. Steven Bradford (D-Gardena) introduced Senate Bill 796 to return the property. At Wednesday’s ceremony, Bradford said he hopes other states will right wrongs of the past and eliminate “structural racism.”

He also praised Los Angeles County Supervisor Janice Hahn who took up the cause of the Bruce family in 2020, and lobbied other elected leaders to return the property.

“I learned to swim in the ocean a few blocks from here, but I didn’t learn about what had happened to Willa and Charles Bruce until 2020 when I heard about a protest taking place at the park up the street,” Hahn said. “I know people had been trying to tell the story, but I had not been listening.”

That protest prompted Hahn to begin researching the history of Bruce’s Beach, and she learned the property was owned by the county government. She then began the effort to return the land, recently appraised at $20 million, to the Bruce family.

Hahn and Supervisor Holly Mitchell, whose district now includes the property, led the ceremony. They were joined by activists, members of the community and Anthony Bruce, a great-great grandson of Willa and Charles Bruce.

“Without God, we would not be here today,” Anthony said.

Watch the video of the ceremony below. The image above is courtesy of Supervisor Janice Hahn.