When we talk about systemic racism in America, one aspect tends to get left out of the discussion: Black people are disproportionately poor because, historically, we’ve been blocked from achieving generational wealth. From the Tulsa race riots to Detroit’s Black Bottom, U.S. history is full of stories that involve white people sabotaging Black wealth and thriving Black communities. And yet, the subject of reparations remains a controversial issue tied exclusively to American slavery.
In Manhattan Beach, Calif., descendants of a Black couple who owned land that was basically stolen from them by white supremacists who didn’t believe Black people should own land might be receiving the property taken from their ancestors in order to right a historic wrong that occurred a century ago.
The Associated Press reports that Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors member Janice Hahn is working to return two parcels of land in Manhattan Beach to the descendants of Willa and Charles Bruce, who built California’s first resort for Black people in 1912, at a time when beaches were segregated and white people would rather see negroes dead than to see them thrive in their own communities.
They built a lodge, café, dance hall and dressing tents with bathing suits for rent. Initially it was known as Bruce’s Lodge.
“Bruce’s Beach became a place where Black families traveled from far and wide to be able to enjoy the simple pleasure of a day at the beach,” Hahn said.
It did not last long.
The Bruces and their customers were harassed by white neighbors and the Ku Klux Klan attempted to burn it down. The Manhattan Beach City Council finally used eminent domain to take the land away from the Bruces in the 1920s, purportedly for use as a park.
“The Bruces had their California dream stolen from them,” Hahn said. “And this was an injustice inflicted not just upon Willa and Charles Bruce but generations of their descendants who almost certainly would have been millionaires if they had been able to keep this property and their successful business.”
“[Black people] had to walk a half-mile in either direction before they could get into the water,” said Duane Shepard, who CBS News described as “a family historian for the Bruces.”
“There was a chapter of the Ku Klux Klan. They started harassing my family around 1920,” he continued. “They burned a cross. They threw burning mattresses under the porch of one of the buildings.”
The land that used to be “Bruce’s Lodge” went from being a place where Black people could go and exist in peace, to becoming vacant land that went unused for years before it was “transferred to the state of California in 1948 and in 1995 it was transferred to Los Angeles County for beach operations and maintenance,” AP reports.
The transfer to LA County came with restrictions that prohibit the sale or transfer of the property to anyone else, and now a change in state law is necessary in order for the property to go to the Bruce’s descendants.
In fact, according to Manhattan Beach Mayor Suzanne Hadley, any form of reparations to the family at all would violate the law.
“That would be considered to be an illegal gift of public funds,” Hadley told CBS. She also said the city council authorized spending $350,000 to commemorate the Bruce’s. Hadley said the council also voted to condemn the racism that pushed the Bruce family out—which is already a weird thing to have to vote on—but it voted not to offer an official apology. (Wow.)
“It’s awful. It’s wrong,” Hadley said. “We’re not that community now. I wouldn’t live here if we were a racist community. And my friends and neighbors would not live here as well.”
But isn’t that just white America for you? America can say “I’m sorry” in every way possible except by actually repairing the damage that was done or granting restitution to families that were ultimately affected.
Also, it appears that they’re still racist AF in Manhattan Beach.
Last month, a group calling itself “Concerned Citizens of Manhattan Beach” took out an ad in a local paper, claiming some “are trying to create a racist problem where there is none.”
For some 20 years, Malissia Clinton has raised her kids in Manhattan Beach and said that she would consider the city a racist community.
“So we are less than 1% African American. That defines racism to me,” Clinton said.
Back in 2015, she said someone threw a burning tire at her family’s front door early one morning. Everyone escaped unhurt, but the trauma remains.
“What it reminded me is that things haven’t changed that much. The terror is still real. People who look like me are terrorized. We aren’t entitled to the comfort of security,” Clinton said.
Her neighbors rallied around her, so the family stayed. But Clinton wonders what the city would look like today if Bruce’s Beach had not been shut down.
“This community might be teeming with Black folks if we had not destroyed that family. It changed the trajectory, not only of their lives and their offspring but of this community,” she said.
So, according to AP, state Sen. Steven Bradford said that on Monday, he will introduce Senate Bill 796, which would exempt the Bruce’s land from the restrictions that are preventing it from being transferred to their descendants.
“After so many years we will right this injustice,” he said during a news conference.
An this, my friends, is why the discussion around reparations matters. America owes more than it could ever repay, but that shouldn’t stop it from trying.