An idyllic stretch of coastline in Manhattan Beach looks like the perfect place to soak in the sun, take a swim or catch a wave. But, despite the beauty, for some, the scenery represents a painful history.
In the early 1900s, Willa and Charles Bruce and their son Harvey, moved to California from New Mexico, part of a wave of Black Americans moving to the state to escape the violent hatred and racism that was going on in the South. Charles took a job as a chef on the Union Pacific train route between Los Angeles and Salt Lake City, and Willa, well Willa had her sights set on the ocean.
In 1912, Willa and Charles purchased beachfront property between 26th and 27th street in what would eventually be known as Manhattan Beach. The price? $1,225.
According to California Beaches, the Bruce’s:
“…set to work, establishing a resort that was open to all African Americans. Given that segregation practices had restricted most beach access for blacks in the city, the new resort was welcomed by many who had until then hardly had the chance to experience the area’s coastal beauty.”
The resort became known as “Bruce’s Beach,” the first West Coast oceanfront property that was owned and serviced by Black residents and it became a popular destination for Black Americans.
But the success of Bruce’s Beach wasn’t embraced by everyone and it wasn’t long before some of the surrounding white population started trying to force them out. Local developers, residents, and members of the Ku Klux Klan began a campaign of harassment that included threats and acts of violence.
Through it all, the Bruce family refused to leave.
In 1924, that choice was taken from them when the land was seized by the city through eminent domain and the resort was shut down. After a years-long legal fight, the Bruce family left Manhattan Beach, never to return…until now.
KFI News’ Corbin Carson presents, “This Sand Is My Sand: The Stolen Legacy of Bruce’s Beach.”
Thank you to the following guests, who appeared in this news special.
Anthony Bruce is the great-great-grandson of Charles and Willa Bruce, the original owners of Bruce's Beach.
Dr. Alison Rose Jefferson is an independent historian, heritage conservation consultant and a third-generation Californian. In September 2021, Dr. Jefferson begins a Getty Conservation Institute fellowship to continue her research on the historical African American experiences and public policies to conserve it in the California coastal zone district of Los Angeles’ Venice area. Her recently finished Applied History projects draw on her research of Southern California locales that feature historical significance as well as contemporary consequence to elucidate the African American experience during the Jim Crow era for Santa Monica’s Belmar History + Art project and the Angels Walk LA Central Avenue heritage trail. She was a 2021 Scholar in Residence with the Institute for the Study of Los Angeles at Occidental College where she in virtual campus and public programs share her work of re-centering the African American experience in local history, heritage conservation efforts and the American identity.
Her recent book, Living the California Dream: African American Leisure Sites during the Jim Crow Era (University of Nebraska Press) was honored with the 2020 Miriam Matthews Ethnic History Award by the Los Angeles City Historical Society for its exceptional contributions to the greater understanding and awareness of regional history. Her work has garnered attention in KCET-LA programming, the Los Angeles, The New York Times, The Guardian and Le Monde newspapers, CBS TV 60 Minutes+ news program and other media. Learn more about Dr. Jefferson’s work on her website.
Kavon Ward is an award-winning spoken word artist and activist. Within the past decade, Kavon has won 1st place at the historic Apollo Theater and has shared the stage with gospel artists Hezekiah Walker, Patti LaBelle, Fantasia and activists like Joe Madison and Dick Gregory, to perform her piece, “I Am Trayvon Martin”. Kavon is the founder of Justice for Bruce's Beach. She initially learned about Bruce’s Beach through a post on Next Door when someone shared a link to a blog post that was written about it in May of 2016. She started her advocacy around Bruce's Beach on Juneteenth, 2020 when she and other co-founders of a group in the South Bay put together a picnic at Bruce's Beach to shed light on black history in Manhattan Beach, specifically the land stolen from black landowners Willa and Charles Bruce.
Kavon has since been quoted in the New York Times, the L.A. Times, and a host of other articles. She has interviewed with NPR, 94.7 The WAVE, and a number of other radio stations, to discuss what justice for the Bruce family means and what reparations for black and indigenous people look like as it pertains to America making amends for stealing black and indigenous land. Kavon has partnered with Patrisse Cullors, of Black Lives Matter, to create a petition through Color of Change calling for restitution and restoration for the Bruce family and reparations for black and indigenous residents of Manhattan Beach. Kavon is currently a, Ph.D. student a reparations consultant and Co-founder of Where Is My Land, an organization focused on getting Black land back nationally. She is a former Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) fellow and public policy lobbyist. Kavon holds a BA in Communications and a Masters of Public Administration.
Chief Duane ‘Yellow Feather’ Shepard, Sr. - Bruce Family Descendant and Historian, was born in Detroit, raised in Los Angeles. Duane Shepard, Sr., a dedicated artist for nearly sixty years, has worked extensively in Film, Television, Stage, and Voiceover. He received numerous accolades, nationally and internationally, during his thirty year international tour of the One-Man Play Brother Malcolm X: Reminiscences of a Revolutionary, in which he played twenty three characters. He’s a series regular on the Eric Andre Show which is airing on Adult Swim.com this season and is also the voice of Aaron Cash in the recurring Batman interactive series. Duane trained at the Infamous Inner City Cultural Center, The Performing Arts Society of Los Angeles (Pasla) and The American Academy of Dramatic Arts. Duane is a Clan Chief and Tribal Elder of the Pocasset Wampanoag Tribe in Fall River, Massachusetts, the first contact tribe with the pilgrims.
Dolores Barclay is an author and adjunct professor at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism where she is administrative manager of the Ira A. Lipman Center for Civil and Human Rights. She is a former National Writer and Arts Editor for The Associated Press. She worked for AP first as a reporter covering city hall, federal and criminal courts, and the police beat for the New York City bureau. She became a feature writer and later a national writer and investigative reporter until moving into culture coverage as a writer and critic. She expanded AP's culture beat as Arts and Entertainment editor, and took a leave from her management position to work on the investigative series "Torn From The Land," which was awarded the Aronson Prize for Social Justice Journalism, the APME Enterprise Award, and the Griot Award of the New York Association of Black Journalists and was submitted for a Pulitzer Prize.
Barclay is the author of two inspirational books, and co-author of "A Girl Needs Cash" and "Sammy Davis Jr. My Father." She also worked with Diana Ross on her best-selling memoir, "Secrets of a Sparrow." A graduate of Elmira College, Barclay was honored with the Alumni Association’s Outstanding Achievement Award in 2011. She is also a recipient of The Multiple Sclerosis Award for Excellence in Communication. She is currently working on her first novel.
Manhattan Beach former mayor Mitch Ward is one of the South Bay’s most dedicated public servants. Mitch is a Hollywood actor, twice locally elected official, initially elected to the Manhattan Beach City Council in 2003 and re-elected in 2007. He first served as Mayor in 2006 and again in 2009-2010. He completed two city council terms in 2011. He is the only Black person to have been elected in the City of Manhattan Beach since it was incorporated in 1912. He is well known for leading the Manhattan Beach City Council in 2006 to rename its oldest park, Bruce's Beach in honor of Willa and Charles Bruce.
Mayor Ward established the Manhattan Beach Youth Recognition Award annual scholarship in 2004. The award was given out to Manhattan Beach and Los Angeles school students with financial need.
Born and raised in London, Allison obtained a BA Hons in Marketing and Communications at London Guildhall University. Her love affair for music led her to New York City specializing in managing top recording artists. After 10+ years in the music business, Allison transitioned her career into working with HNW individuals and the management of their estates.
Allison moved to Los Angeles in 2011, and is now a Realtor. She lived in Manhattan Beach for 3 years and sat on Manhattan Beach City’s Bruce’s Beach Task Force. She is the Community Lead for Justice for Bruce’s Beach and Founder of Culture Club South Bay.
Visit the Bruce's Beach Task Force website.
Suzanne Hadley was first elected to city council in March 2019. She served as the mayor of Manhattan Beach from December 2020 until September 2021. Originally from Wisconsin, Councilmember Hadley has been married to David Hadley for 29 years. They raised four children all of whom attended the Manhattan Beach public schools.
L.A. County Supervisor Janice Hahn was elected to serve the 4th District, stretching from Marina del Rey to Diamond Bar in 2016.
Born and raised in LA County, Janice has followed in the footsteps of her father, the legendary LA County Supervisor Kenny Hahn, throughout every step of her public service career. On the Board of Supervisors, she has advanced a people-first agenda and continued her lifelong dedication to lifting up working families.
Supervisor Hahn began her career as a teacher. She then went on to serve on the Los Angeles Charter Reform Commission as well as the City Council representing the 15th District. After serving in local government, Supervisor Hahn was elected to Congress, first representing California’s old 36th District and then the 44th District after redistricting. Throughout her time in public service, Supervisor Hahn has continued her commitment to the interests of local working families. She currently lives in San Pedro and enjoys spending time with her 5 grandchildren.
Senator Steven Bradford has spent over two decades in public service, first as a Gardena City Councilmember, then as a State Assemblymember, and currently as a State Senator. He views himself simply as a public servant and not a 'politician'. Public service was instilled in him by his parents who taught him the value of giving back to the community. In his free time, you will often find him on the golf course or attending jazz events. He started a Junior Golf program while on the city council and his favorite community event is the Gardena Jazz Festival, where he serves as the Founder and Chair. The festival has been celebrated for 16 years and is one of the most popular events in the South Bay. Bradford grew up in Gardena, where he resides to this day. He coached football and baseball for sixteen years in Gardena’s Parks and Recreation League and attended San Diego State University where he earned a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science at California State University, Dominguez Hills. He currently serves on the board of the Mervyn M. Dymally African American Political and Economic Institute, a non-partisan public policy think tank.