Black Families Renew Push To Get Land Returned After Bruce's Beach Win


Photo: Getty Images

After the Bruce family successfully won back the rights to their picturesque $75 million beachfront property in California, advocates and scholars are renewing interest in getting other Black families their land back.

On September 30, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed a landmark law that returned ownership of a stretch of Manhattan Beach back to the Bruce family who owned the land before the city seized it in 1924 through eminent domain.

For many, the case was hailed as a turning point and one of the few and first examples of Black people getting land back that was –– often violently –– taken throughout the nation's history. Some advocates say the case and the Bruce's victory are giving hope to others.

"The reason it's getting so much attention now is there's been a precedent and that's what's giving hope to other families," Kavon Ward, co-founder of the advocacy group, Where Is My Land, and who helped lead the Bruce family's fight, told The Washington Post.

Ward said after the Bruce's victory, more than 100 families came forward with their own stories of rightful land ownership. "This is just hte beginning," she said.

Ward's group is now turning their attention to Cleveland, Ohio where activists say a tract of land partly occupied by the Cleveland Clinic rightfully belongs to former businessman Winston E. Willis, who, advocates say, was left out of his land and decades of potential prosperity –– a common factor contributing to the wealth gap between white and Black Americans today.

But the case, like many others, may be difficult to prove. As the push to address the complicated history of Black land ownership in America, advocates are wondering if and how the movement will be possible.

The Bruce's Beach case had well-documented historical claim to the land but, that documentation might not be available for the thousands of cases Duke University professor William Darity believes are out there.

"I just think there are thousands of these cases, and a very small percentage of them have the degree of specificity that the Bruce Beach case does where you know exactly who owned the property, how it was taken and by whom," Darity, who authored a book on reparations last year, told The Post.

A prime example, Darity added, is the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921 where white violently seized once-thriving Black businesses, killing hundreds. Proving how the land where those businesses once stood changed hands over the years would be difficult in court, Darity said. Yet another challenge would be getting current owners to return the property or pay equitable compensation –– which would need to be calculated.

Despite it all, the Bruce Family's victory has given hope and renewed interest in addressing this part of the nation's violent past.

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