During the Jim Crow era, African Americans were unwelcome at many Southern California beaches. In 1912, African American entrepreneurs Willa and Charles Bruce established a successful leisure and resort service business in Manhattan Beach, where they and other African American visitors from Los Angeles enjoyed the Pacific Ocean and magnificent views of the California coastline. In the 1920s, this small African American community was dispossessed in an eminent domain land grab for a public park that was not created until thirty years later.
This presentation will explore the history of Bruce’s Beach, its conflicted heritage, and equally contentious place in the public memory of our multi-ethnic region and the city of Manhattan Beach.
Over most of the twentieth century, Bruce’s Beach resort community was erased from the public memory. The non-violent civil rights agency that occurred at the site has mostly been overlooked. This site was a place where pioneering Afro Californians participated in the fruits of the state’s recreational and commerce offerings, and demanded justice and equality.
Alison Rose Jefferson is a historian and heritage conservation consultant. Her professional interests revolve around American and California history, the experiences of people of African descent, public history, spatial justice, historic preservation and cultural tourism. She is currently editing a book manuscript tentatively titled “Leisure’s Race, Power and Place: The Recreation and Remembrance of African Americans in the California Dream” for publication with University of Nebraska Press.
Jefferson earned a PhD in History from University of California, Santa Barbara, a Master’s degree in Heritage Conservation from University of Southern California and a Bachelors of Arts from Pomona College in Claremont, California. To view articles on her work and more information on her activities, please visit her website at www.alisonrosejefferson.com.
Photography by Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times