Sands of time
AFTER NEARLY A century of mostly awkward silence, Manhattan Beach is taking a tentative step toward acknowledging its history of racial discrimination by renaming a small park near the ocean Bruce’s Beach.
In 1912, Charles A. and Willa Bruce built one of the few venues in Southern California where black families could legally enjoy the surf and sand. They ran a profitable inn, cafe and dance hall within the two-block neighborhood to which minorities were restricted by housing covenants.
But as the popularity of Bruce’s Beach grew, so did white hostility. Black beachgoers would find their tires slashed; the Ku Klux Klan torched a black-owned home nearby and tried to burn down the resort. The city seized the property in 1924 via eminent domain on grounds that it was urgently needed for a park. Yet, for the next 30 years, the lot remained vacant.
Now the city is facing its unsavory past with a dedication ceremony March 31. But the efforts at honoring the Bruces seem halfhearted.
For one thing, the city is by no means united -- the City Council split on the renaming, and one councilman said he isn’t sure who even warrants an invitation to the event. (Suggestion: Start with Bernard Bruce. Had his grandparents been allowed to keep the property in the family, it now would be worth millions of dollars.)
Then there is the question of the park’s new plaque; its message also seems conflicted. An early version said minorities were “housed” in the neighborhood. The final version says that the area “was home to several minority families and was condemned through eminent domain proceedings.... " It goes on: “Those tragic circumstances reflected the views of a different time.”
Well, yes, times have changed. But the long gap between the incident and the commemoration suggests that times may have changed more slowly than people think. Acknowledging past misdeeds honors yesterday’s victims, but it also gives moral texture to the present, announcing that we are no longer a society that tolerates violent, government-sanctioned racism. Californians famously prefer to orient themselves toward the future, but the past counts too, warts and all.
Manhattan Beach should be proud of itself for choosing commemoration. It would be proud of itself if it held a first-rate celebration. Tell the story. Remember what happened. Who should be invited? Everyone, of course.