California Returns Beach Property Wrongly Taken From Black Family via Eminent Domain
California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a law last week that would return beachfront property to the heirs of an African-American couple who had owned it in the early 1900s. While the move is rightly being hailed as a step forward in undoing a racial injustice, it should also be recognized as undoing a stark example of eminent domain abuse.
Charles and Willa Bruce moved to California from New Mexico in the early 1900s, at a time when many African Americans were moving west. Starting in 1912, they bought up several plots of beachfront land in Manhattan Beach. On this property, Mrs. Bruce built a resort, which she named Bruce Beach Front; this was later shortened to Bruce’s Beach. The property featured a café, a dance hall, rooms for rent, bathing showers, and dressing tents.
Many white residents bristled at the black-owned and -patronized business. The Los Angeles Daily Times reported that nearby white landowners “deplore the state of affairs.” They responded first by putting up “No Trespassing” signs all along the edges of the property, forcing patrons to walk an extra half mile to get to the resort. Over time, racists started making profane phone calls and letting the air out of beachgoers’ tires. The Ku Klux Klan started holding rallies on the beach, burning crosses on hills overlooking the resort, and in one case burning a mattress on the property. Yet the resort thrived for more than a decade, with Mrs
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