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California beachfront property to return to Black family

People take pictures at Bruce's Beach in April 2021 in Manhattan Beach, California. ©AFP

Los Angeles (AFP) - Los Angeles county officials have approved a plan to return California beachfront property to the descendants of a Black family who had the land seized from them a century ago, in a move hailed as a step towards atoning for racial injustice.

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to transfer ownership of a piece of land in the city of Manhattan Beach to the great-grandsons of Charles and Willa Bruce, who had operated a resort for Black residents there until it was taken away from them in the 1920s in what the board called "an act of racism."

"We can't change the past and we will never be able to make up for the injustice that was done to Willa and Charles Bruce a century ago, but this is a start," said Supervisor Janice Hahn, who led the effort to return the 7,000 square foot (650 square meters) property to the family.

Hahn added that the move will allow the descendants "to start rebuilding the generational wealth that was denied to them."

Willa and Charles Bruce purchased the land in 1912 and after adding a few other adjacent plots created a beach resort, which came to be known as Bruce's Beach, catering to Black residents, who had few options at the time for enjoying the California coast.

Complete with a bath house, dance hall and cafe, the resort attracted other Black families who purchased land nearby.

But the resort quickly became a target of vandalism and racial attacks from local residents.In 1924, it was seized by the city under the pretext of needing to build a city park and the Bruces as well as other Black families ultimately lost their businesses.

The city park, built on a portion of the seized land, took decades to materialize.

"The experience of Willa and Charles Bruce is an example of how racism against Black people has reached crisis proportions," the board said in a statement, "and has resulted in large disparities in family stability, health and mental wellness, education, employment, economic development, public safety, criminal justice, and housing."

The Bruces plan to lease the land to the city for $413,000 a year and will have the option to sell it back to the county for a price not to exceed $20 million.

The United States is in the midst of a historic reckoning on racism, with Confederate symbols from the Civil War removed across the country, and mass protests calling for racial justice following the high-profile killings of a number of unarmed Black people by police and other manifestations of racial disparities.

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