By Ray Richardson
MANHATTAN BEACH — The city may have written the final chapter to a historic injustice by issuing a formal apology to the heirs of Bruce’s Beach, a resort property stripped from its Black owners in 1924 because of racial discrimination.
Manhattan Beach City Council members have approved Resolution 23-0037 to officially acknowledge the city’s racially motivated actions nearly 100 years ago and hopefully bring closure to the four remaining descendants of Charles and Willa Bruce.
The four-page resolution, which references “unjustly taking the Bruce’s property under false pretenses,” was passed at the City Council meeting April 4.
“Therefore, be it resolved, that the city of Manhattan Beach formally apologizes for the discriminatory condemnation action to dispossess the property of Charles and Willa Bruce,” the resolution stated. “An apology can’t change the events of 100 years ago, nor are today’s residents responsible for the past actions of others. However, we offer this apology as a foundational act for Manhattan Beach’s next 100 years and the actions we will take together to stand up against prejudice and hate and for respect and inclusion. It is long overdue.”
The Bruce’s Beach issue has been seen as an important part of the nationwide movement for reparations for Blacks for economic and other damages brought about over centuries by slavery and racial discrimination.
Charles and Willa Bruce purchased the beach property in 1912, turning the land into a profitable resort area for Black professionals and their families to swim, surf, eat and relax. The resort’s popularity led to harassment for Black patrons from white residents in Manhattan Beach.
City officials, uncomfortable with Blacks having a beach resort in their area, invoked a government provision known as “eminent domain,” which gives local governments the right to take private property and convert it to public use if the original owners are paid for the transfer. The city condemned the property and forced the Bruce’s to sell it.
News of the apology was well received by the descendants of Charles and Willa Bruce.
“We were optimistic that we would get an apology at some point,” said Duane Shepherd, a spokesperson for the Bruce heirs. “I spoke to one of the family members. They were very happy.”
Shepherd said he relayed the news to Derrick Bruce, a great-great grandson of Charles Bruce. All four remaining descendants live outside of California.
After several years of legal battles to regain rightful ownership of the Manhattan Beach property, the descendants decided to re-sell the land back to Los Angeles County for $20 million. The sale was completed in late January.
Last June, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors returned the property to the family with an agreement to pay the descendants an annual rent of $413,000 as long as the family owned the property. The property return drew national headlines and was viewed as a form of reparation for Black families that had property taken away from them.
Despite selling Bruce’s Beach back to the county, family members and supporters were still adamant about getting a formal apology for what happened to Charles and Willa Bruce.
Manhattan Beach officials were reluctant to issue a formal apology, even after the property had been returned to the family last June. George Fatheree, an attorney representing the four descendants, was told that one of the reasons was the fear of legal action from the family if they gave a formal apology.
Manhattan Beach City Attorney Quinn Burrows informed city officials in March that an apology would not be grounds for a lawsuit, a revelation that helped pave the way for the City Council’s action last week.
“The city wants to move past the historical reputation it has gotten,” Fatheree said during an interview April 11 with Tavis Smiley on KBLA Talk 1580. “They want to get out from under this cloud. They have a major opportunity ahead of them if they want to move forward and be a shining light for the rest of the country.”
Fatheree and Shepherd believed that a change in philosophy in the Manhattan Beach city administration contributed to the apology. Mayor Richard Montgomery was chosen to lead the city after the term expired for previous Mayor Steve Napolitano. New council members have been seated after recent elections.
Napolitano issued a personal apology during a plaque ceremony at Bruce’s Beach on March 18, but the family remained persistent in getting a formal apology, which is now an official part of the city’s history.
“This was a real apology for the city’s actions,” Fatheree said. “There were other resolutions passed back then that made it difficult for the Bruce’s and other Black businesses to thrive during that time.”
The Bruce’s Beach property, located on Highland Avenue, is currently the site of a lifeguard training facility for the Los Angeles County Fire Department.
Manhattan Beach officials are still interested in paying tribute to the property. The city has sent out a request for proposals for commemorative artwork to be displayed at the site. Submission deadline is April 23.
Ray Richardson is a contributing writer for The Wave. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.