Monday, March 19, 2007

Essay 1863

From The Los Angeles Times…


Erasing a line drawn in the sand
Manhattan Beach renames a park to honor a black couple forced to give up their resort in the 1920s.

By Deborah Schoch, Times Staff Writer

In two weeks, Manhattan Beach city leaders and residents plan to gather at a small park by the ocean to lift the veil from a commemorative plaque, revealing a piece of little-known local history.

“This two-block neighborhood was home to several minority families and was condemned through eminent domain proceedings commenced in 1924,” the plaque reads. “Those tragic circumstances reflected the views of a different time.”

After debate last summer, the City Council voted to rename the park Bruce’s Beach, acknowledging the African American couple who bought the land overlooking the Pacific in 1912.

There, Charles A. and Willa Bruce created one of the few places in Southern California where black families could swim and relax along its sun-bathed shores. They ran an inn called Bruce’s Lodge, a cafe and a dance hall.

By the mid-1920s, city leaders contended that the land occupied by the Bruces’ resort would better serve the community as a public park. The city used its powers of condemnation to buy the land from the Bruces and other nearby residents, removing most of Manhattan Beach’s African American residents and visitors.

No park was built there for three decades.

Some who know this slice of history believe that the story of Bruce’s Beach merits more than a commemorative plaque and should be explained in a more detailed exhibit that speaks to the issue in the context of segregationist practices of the time. The City Council has not embraced that idea, approving only the name change and plaque.

It’s not known yet how many people will attend the dedication March 31; planning started just last week. But among those committed to show up are Robert L. Brigham and Alison Rose Jefferson — historians generations apart — who researched the story of Bruce’s Beach. They and others took the issue to City Hall, winning the backing of Mitch Ward, the city’s first black elected official, who requested the ceremony.

An invitation will probably be extended to Bernard Bruce, 72, the grandson of Charles and Willa, welcoming him to the town that forced his ancestors out.

[Click on the essay title above to read the full story.]

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