More than a century ago, his ancestors had turned this small corner of Manhattan Beach into a popular resort — one where Black people could dip their toes in the sand and bask in their own slice of the California dream.
In this affluent town of 35, — known for its manicured homes, the community fair, the Strand by the sea — few know of this racist past. But as protesters across the nation continue to fill the streets calling for a more equitable society, a new generation is demanding that the city atone for past wrongs. Like the many towns, institutions and universities that have been forced into similar reckonings since the death of George Floyd, Manhattan Beach must confront its own history. The truth, after all, was buried for generations — then rewritten over the years to fit preferred narratives.
Then came the Spanish, and by the early s, George Peck and others developed what is known today as Manhattan Beach.
While her husband, Charles, worked as a dining-car chef on the train running between Salt Lake City and Los Angeles, Willa ran a popular lodge, cafe and dance hall — providing Black families a way to enjoy a weekend on the coast. A few more Black families bought and built their own cottages by the sea. A community was born.
Tires were slashed. The Ku Klux Klan purportedly set fire to a mattress under the main deck and torched a Black-owned home nearby. This hostility was not uncommon at the time. Another popular area in Santa Monica was referred to as the Inkwell.
When harassment failed to drive the Black beach-going community out of town, city officials condemned the neighborhood in and seized more than two dozen properties through eminent domain. The reason, they said, was an urgent need for a public park. Most found other property in Manhattan Beach, but the city made it impossible for the Bruces to move their seaside business anywhere else in town. So they packed up and went inland, where they served as chefs for other business owners for the remainder of their lives.
This is bullshit
She noted how eminent domain was once also used to take property from interned Japanese Americans and to dispossess Latino families of their properties to build a public housing project that ultimately became Dodger Stadium. In the s, city officials began to worry that family members might sue to regain their land unless it was used for the purpose for which it had been originally taken.
Init was named after a sister city in Mexico, Parque Culiacan. Anthony Bruce, many generations later, says this history continues to tear his family apart. Growing up in South L. Instead, his father took the kids and left California. Today, Anthony, 37, is a security supervisor in Florida and teaches English online. The local Facebook group for moms, she said, kept deleting her posts about Black Lives Matter.
She and a few moms started their own group, Anti-Racist Movements Around the South Bay, and did everything they could to shake their neighbors, city leaders and state legislators into action. They reclaimed the park as a space to honor Black lives — including a Juneteenth celebration and memorials for Breonna Taylor and Emmett Till.
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In an editorial in the local Easy Reader News, Russ Lesser, a year-resident of Manhattan Beach who served as mayor in the s, questioned how returning the land would even work. The park itself, he noted, was not the two parcels that the Bruces actually owned down by the Strand, where the county lifeguard station sits today.
How would taxpayers come up with this money? City Mayor Richard Montgomery said he is open to redoing the plaque and has said as early as 14 years ago that an apology was long overdue.
As for the demand for restitution, Montgomery said the city needed to first get the facts straight before deciding how to proceed. The City Council is seeking historians, he said, to teach the community what really happened. Duane Shepard Sr. He smiled as he described a reunion held at the park inwhere about family members had gathered for the first time.
Rosanna Xia is an environment reporter for the Los Angeles Times. She covers the coast and was a Pulitzer Prize finalist in for explanatory reporting.
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