Stories

Bruce’s Beach—Land Returned to Black Family After 98 Years

In 1912, Willa and Charles Bruce purchased beachfront land in Manhattan Beach and built a popular destination resort for Black residents and vacationers. It was one of the few places in California where Black families could enjoy the ocean when many other beaches and resorts were off-limits due to segregation.

But soon, the resort and its visitors faced violence and threats from white residents, and the local government and Ku Klux Klan launched an effort to drive the Bruces out. In 1924, the City of Manhattan Beach seized their land through eminent domain, ostensibly to create a public park. Instead, the land remained empty for decades. Today, the parcels of land are valued at tens of millions of dollars.

In 2020, amid the Black Lives Matter uprising, there was renewed interest in the history of Bruce’s Beach. The Bruce family reached out to Public Counsel because of the organization’s land use expertise, and Public Counsel began to explore whether there was a legal remedy to return the land taken from their ancestors nearly 100 years ago. 

Over a two-year journey, our team helped the family connect with invaluable pro bono support from Kirkland & Ellis; Munger, Tolles & Olson; and Sidley Austin. The law firms provided hundreds of hours of crucial legal research and advocacy. Finally, in the summer of 2022, Bruce’s Beach was returned to the Bruce family 98 years after it was taken. 

We are so honored to have been able to work alongside the Bruce family and so many dedicated volunteers to right this century-old injustice! Please consider an end-of-the-year gift to sustain our life-changing work to fight for racial justice.

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