August 5, 2021

Bruce’s Beach, California, a symbol of the struggle to repair the spoliations suffered by blacks

By Corine Lesnes

Posted today at 00:25

A stone’s throw from Hollywood, the story has already sparked a TV series project, produced by Brad Pitt and Amazon Studios. It will be that of Charles and Willa Bruce, a couple of black entrepreneurs robbed of their land by a white municipality in 1925, and who have become emblematic of the struggle for reparations in a country that can no longer ignore the weight of the past. The Bruce will take their place in the line of the heroes of the black legend that the cinema has seized in recent years: Harriet Tubman, the fugitive slave of the eponymous Underground Railroad (The Underground Railroad), Thurgood Marshall, the first African-American judge on the Supreme Court (Marshall), Richard and Mildred Loving, the multiracial couple who fought all the way to prison for the right to marry (Loving), Katherine Johnson, the gifted mathematician kept in the shadows by NASA (Shadow Figures).

Charles et Willa Bruce.

The setting is not located on the heights of Hollywood but south of LAX, the international airport which is no longer old. An area where the best and the worst of Los Angeles are mixed, the golden carefreeness and the derricks, a few hundred meters from the coast. Past the Chevron refinery, here is Manhattan Beach, 35,000 inhabitants. Self-proclaimed capital of beach volleyball; seaside resort which pushed the culture of beach cottage until dedicating a museum to it. Manhattan Beach, her starlets in swimsuits barely covered in sheer tulle despite the gloomy weather; his electric bikes parked on the sand. His “Black Lives Matter” signs on multi-million dollar Venetian-style castles.

Manhattan Beach has pushed the “beach cottage” culture to the point of dedicating a museum to it.  June 18, 2021.

When Charles and Willa Bruce bought a piece of land there in 1912, Manhattan Beach was still just a row of dunes, more than an hour from Los Angeles by the little trolley line that had just opened. The couple have some savings: Charles is a cook in the dining cars on the Salt Lake City-Los Angeles line. Willa succeeds in buying the plot from a white developer, all the less observant since he charges him more than twice the normal price ($ 1,225). From the outset, their arrival created a “Storm” in the neighborhood, report it Los Angeles Times of June 27, 1912. But Willa is a strong woman. “As soon as we try to open an establishment on the beach, we run into a refusal, she says on a daily basis. But I own this land and I intend to keep it. ” On the coast, there is only one other piece of beach where blacks are tolerated: in Santa Monica. Full of tact, the whites call him inkwell : the “ink well”.

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