Black Family's Success in Recovering California Land Could Spark National Land Return MovementBreaking News
tags: African American history, California, Los Angeles, Bruces Beach
A Black family’s successful fight to reclaim a picturesque stretch of Southern California shoreline has ignited a national movement, with activists eyeing White-owned properties around the country they say rightfully belong to African Americans.
A landmark law signed by California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) on Sept. 30 provided for a seaside park in Manhattan Beach to be returned to the Bruce family, which owned the land before the city used eminent domain to seize it in 1924. The victory was hailed as a watershed moment, the first example of Black people forcing the return of property that was taken from them by one means or another, often violently, over the years.
At the same time it raised a question: Would the Bruce’s Beach case be a one-off, or a tipping point in a national struggle over Black land ownership? Activists and scholars say there are other similar cases nationwide, but proving them — and getting the current property owners to cooperate — will be a different matter, forcing another chapter in the nation’s racial reckoning and raising thorny questions about how to right past wrongs.
“The reason it’s getting so much attention now is there’s been a precedent set and that’s what’s giving hope to other families,” said Kavon Ward, who helped lead the successful fight on behalf of the Bruce family and has co-founded a group called Where Is My Land aimed at advocating for other Black people who are trying to reclaim lost and stolen land. “This is just the beginning.”
Ward said she has already heard from more than 100 people eager to make the case that they have a rightful claim to property now occupied by others. Her group is turning its attention to a tract of land in Cleveland now partly owned by the Cleveland Clinic that activists say rightfully belongs to former businessman Winston E. Willis. As with the Bruce case in California, advocates say, Willis was deprived not just of his property but also of decades of potential prosperity — a scenario that, repeated many times over, lies at the root of the wealth gap between Whites and African Americans.