What if Bruce’s Beach was just the beginning? Why more stolen land will be returned

(Genaro Molina/Los Angeles Times)

What if Bruce’s Beach was just the beginning? Why more stolen land will be returned

California politics, homepage news

Erika D. Smith

March 28, 2024

As polls continue to show the public’s deep aversion to reparations, it’s easy to forget that it was just three years ago that elected officials were all for it, pointing to what many had quietly thought would be a one-time thing if model for righting the wrongs. of systemic racism.

Easy to forget unless you’re Kavon Ward.

The founder of Where Is My Land was present when Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a bill relinquishing government control of Bruce’s Beach, the estate that once belonged to Willa and Charles Bruce and had been a popular lodge and dance hall for black beachgoers in the 1900s before the city of Manhattan Beach took it through eminent domain took over domain.

Newsom argued that what California did, unlikely to give land back to the Bruce family to keep or sell, could and even should be repeated. Many expressed public expressions of hope. Many more shook their heads silently. But it turns out the governor was actually on to something.

Last week, the Santa Monica City Council voted to consider returning land or otherwise compensating Silas White’s descendants. The black businessman tried to open a club for black beachgoers in the then-segregated city in the late 1950s, but was thwarted by an unfair use of eminent domain.

More steps remain before the Whites can officially join the Bruces

city ​​council members approve city staff recommendations on reparations. That can happen within 90 days


But in the meantime, Ward, who worked with both families, compares the sense of victory in Santa Monica to Bruce’s Beach.

“People thought it was a one-off and dismissed the work I was doing,” she told me. “They said, ‘You just got lucky. All the stars aligned.’ Well, I did something that’s never been done before.”

The question now is: can this happen a third time? And a fourth, a fifth and a sixth? And if so, if this becomes a full-fledged trend, what will that mean for the long-accepted principles surrounding property ownership and the generative accumulation of wealth? Who will be the new winners and who will be the new losers?


in America, almost all of us live on stolen land. It’s an inconvenient truth, so we rarely question its justice. But that could change.

‘We need to take a good look at our government institutions, which have traditionally been white


dominated and, quite frankly, white supremacist, and correcting some of the harmful actions of the past,” Santa Monica Councilmember Caroline Torosis told me. “The more we normalize options and processes so that people can have true restorative justice, the more it becomes a mainstream idea.”

And yet I suspect that this potential to normalize an economic reordering of society is one reason why there is so much opposition to reparations, even as the California Legislature has begun considering more than a dozen bills that would have been recommended by a state task force to address the lasting damage of slavery. and racist government policies.

One of those bills, Senate Bill 1050 by Sen. Steven Bradford (D-Gardena), would give the state the authority to investigate allegations of racially motivated property takings. Crucially, it would also “establish a process for providing compensation to the rightful owner,” presumably making it easier to do what Ward did in Manhattan Beach with Bruce’s Beach and in Santa Monica with what the Ebony Beach Club would have been.

“It took a lot of effort to get this done,” said Ward, who provided input on SB 1050. “You don’t see everything that goes on behind the scenes and so people just think it’s easy. But it’s not. “

Few understand this better than Native Americans, creators of the original Land Back movement, designed to reclaim and manage ancestral lands that were seized and encroached upon more than a century ago.

Their struggle for control over largely rural wilderness is different from the ownership struggle over developed urban neighborhoods. For starters, it’s not just about land for the tribes. It’s about culture and identity and healing, and about having sacred spaces to practice ancient traditions.

And yet they’ve also had some surprising wins lately.

In 2022, when Black people were still figuring out how to replicate what happened to Bruce’s Beach, the Tongva were given an acre back in Altadena, marking the first time in about 200 years that the first humans had landed in Los Angeles that they could call their own country. Also that year, more than 500 acres of redwood forest in Northern California were returned to the InterTribal Sinkyone Wilderness Council.

In 2023, 6.2 hectares in Orange County were transferred to the Tongva and Acjachemen people. And so far this year, the Ohlone people have reclaimed 2.2 hectares of land near San Francisco. The Yurok people also made a deal to get back 300 acres in Humboldt County and have similar hopes for their ancestral lands along the Klamath River, created by the removal of four hydroelectric dams.

Meanwhile, Assemblymember Wendy Carrillo (D-Los Angeles) and Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara are taking on the long-lamented displacement of thousands of mostly Latino families, ostensibly to build housing, but ultimately to build Dodger Stadium.

Assembly Bill 1950 would provide reparations according to Carrillo’s word, not mine, to the descendants of residents of Palo Verde, La Loma and Bishop, now collectively known as Chavez Ravine. The biggest demand is for land. Each family would be entitled to city-owned land comparable in size to what they lost, or to compensation for the value of their land, adjusted for inflation.

“The city has robbed the residents of these three communities of generational wealth,” Carrillo said

said inside

explaining why she introduced the bill, which is still in its early hearings in committee.

Indeed, there is a groundswell of new ideas about dealing with the worm’s-eye consequences of stolen land. And with every victory, whether it is

the process

in Santa Monica or Humboldt County


there is more momentum to reach the next one.

‘There is a clear openness to correct injustice [and] of people doing the right thing, especially at a time when housing is a prevalent conversation,” Carrillo said. “And we’re starting to see how incredibly biased politics from the past affected people of color.”


Big questions aside, 90-year-old Connie White is still struggling with the fact that her family might get their money.

Santa Monica

land back or at least compensation for it.

She was in her twenties when she looked at her father




put his dreams and his savings into turning an old building on Ocean Avenue into a hotel and club. He had owned several businesses, including a laundromat and a hamburger stand, but this would be the “crown jewel.” Nat King Cole had agreed to become a co-founder.

But a few months before the Ebony Beach Club was set to open, the city seized the building and surrounding land. White sued, but he lost. Shortly afterwards he was diagnosed with cancer.

He fought it

, but became sicker. The city then condemned and demolished the building and replaced it with a parking lot.

“That really hurt him,” White told me. “And then he started not taking care of himself as well as he used to. And he was very depressed. And then, in 1962, he died. He was only 57.”

She thought it was over. That no one could do anything anymore. She never told what happened to other family members, including her cousin Milana Davis. Then came Bruce’s Beach.

“Connie said to me one day, ‘You know, my dad had property in Santa Monica that they took from him. Maybe I should contact Where


It’s my country,” Davis said. “I said, ‘Yes, I think you should.’ ”

Given the choice over reparations, Davis said she would prefer to get land back, although that is a complicated proposition since the luxury Viceroy Hotel now occupies the land.

White, meanwhile, said she doesn’t know what she wants yet, except for people to know what happened to her father and to show other families, other people of color who have been wronged, that they don’t have to do it alone . accept their land being stolen.

“That’s my hope,” White said.

“Many years ago my father spoke to me and we talked about the definition of justice,” she added. “He said, ‘If you see a way to bring justice in your lifetime, I want you to pursue it.’ “So that’s what I did.”


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