Bruce’s Beach Was a Reparations Model. Then the Family Sold It.

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The couple blames California officials for what they believe is a below-value sale. But they are also disheartened by the family’s decision to sell.

“Your fight is bigger than you,” Ms. Johnson said.

Kavon Ward, who founded Justice for Bruce’s Beach in 2020 to spearhead the return of the land, said that she, too, had been hoping the Bruces would keep it. “I’m disappointed at what they decided to do with it,” she said.

Ms. Ward, the chief executive of Where Is My Land Inc., a company that helps Black families reclaim property, said she was “still happy they got the land back,” but that she had hoped the Bruce heirs “would really try to realize Charles and Willa Bruce’s vision.”

Thomas W. Mitchell, director of the Initiative on Land, Housing and Property Rights at Boston College Law School, said he understands why many Black Americans would have an emotional attachment to Bruce’s Beach.

“There’s just been harm that has continually impacted Black families in general, but certainly in relationship to their experience with property,” said Mr. Mitchell.

A small minority of Black people collectively owned millions of acres of land in the early 1900s, Mr. Mitchell said. The Bruces, he said, represented a tiny, elite class who overcame myriad obstacles to build wealth, only to have it stripped away.

“The Bruce’s Beach case represents the most robust sense of an actual case of reparations for an individual family,” Mr. Mitchell said, adding, “But it’s just one family.”

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