While visiting Southern California, my native stomping grounds, I caught this amazing sunset in Manhattan Beach. Sometimes I forget to turn my location off & Google Maps will prompt me to leave reviews for places that I’ve been, this excursion mentioning Bruce’s Beach, which I had never heard of. I’m thinking, “who’s this guy, Bruce?” Curious, I clicked the location for more info & recognized from photos, a cute 3-acre stair-shaped, hillside park that me & my family had parked our car at the bottom of. I was surprised to read this small description on Google: Small local park known for its role in African-American history, as well as its scenic views.
Aside from me, my son & his father, I hadn’t noticed any other African-Americans at this park or on the beach, not during our sunset stop, nor the next morning when we went back to admire the ocean one more time before heading home. So naturally, I was intrigued about what sort of African-American history this park had in such a predominantly white beach front neighborhood.
The City of Manhattan Beach has a page on their city’s site that states Bruce’s Park is the oldest park site in the city, claiming that it was ‘obtained’ in 1929 (the year my maternal grandmother was born). This 2-block community was once home to minority families & businesses, one of them being a resort owned by the African-American entrepreneurial couple, Charles & Willa Bruce:
In 1912, George Huntington Peck, Jr., a prominent real estate developer who became one of the founders of Manhattan Beach, purchased land there & dedicated 2 city blocks of his property to offer plots for sale to African-Americans—who had very limited, to no access to the public beaches of California—a reality that was normal all over the US at the time. The Bruce’s bought several lots & turned their home into a resort, Bruce’s Lodge, which included a bathhouse, cafe & dance hall. It was one of the very few resorts & beaches that blacks were allowed to enjoy.
While the Los Angeles area continued to boom, the growing African American population in Manhattan Beach was not well received & the KKK was gaining momentum. Black Bruce Beach goers were increasingly harassed & assaulted. Visitors & residences vehicles & properties were vandalized & destroyed. The city pressured the black residents to sell their properties for below market value & when they relented, the city eventually seized the 2-block neighborhood by condemning the area through eminent domain proceedings that commenced in 1924. Bruce Lodge was torn down & the space remained undeveloped for 30 years.
It wasn’t until over 80 years later in 2007 that the park was renamed Bruce’s Beach to commemorate the couple’s legacy & the City of Manhattan Beach held a celebration ceremony in their honor, erecting a stone plaque monument that tells their story.
Reflecting on my time there after learning about the Bruce family was bittersweet. I am endlessly grateful for the life I am able to live today that so many ancestors before me were not able, many who fought their entire lives for the right to enjoy some of life’s simple pleasures. I imagined how devastating it must have been for the Bruce family, their friends & neighbors, who lost so much of what they had worked so hard & long for, some who lost everything. I imagined myself in that situation, with my son, my family, trying to just enjoy some time at the beach, then being driven away for no other reason than our precious melanin. I hate that my ancestors had to fight so hard for normalcy, for basic liberties, yet I will forever have gratitude that they did. Because of them, we can…