The return of Bruce’s Beach to the heirs of African American owners Charles and Willa Bruce in June was not just a community’s gesture to right a wrong, but an act of goodness to bring people together, according to Pastor Carthel J. Towns Sr., of Ekklesia Christian Community Church in Santa Clarita.
Towns hosted a church service on Sunday at the landmark location in the city of Manhattan Beach as a means to not dwell on the past, but recognize what people can do together going forward. Church members made the hour-plus-long trek from the Santa Clarita Valley to attend, and others took part in the service, as well.
“We have about 30 members,” Towns told The Signal in a phone interview on Tuesday. “About 30 of them showed up — every last one of them. And other folks who knew that we were going to be there showed up, and they brought their kids.”
Towns said people in the Manhattan Beach area also took part in the service. Some saw the news of the planned gathering on TV a couple hours before it was to take place and came by to participate, while others were just there, saw the service and joined in.
“There were times when folks would come down on their bikes,” Towns added. “They would just stop, and then they would listen to what we had going on. So, it ended up being more people than we planned for, but, I mean, I couldn’t stop that.”
Towns, who founded Ekklesia Christian Community Church in 2017, has been conducting church services virtually since the COVID-19 pandemic. Before that, he’d use local school gymnasiums and hotels to bring his congregation together. The service at Bruce’s Beach was Towns’ way to get members off their computers and outside, but it was ultimately a way to preach a point about a current sentiment that’s been troubling him lately.
“There’s a lot of divisiveness in our country right now,” Towns said. “And I think that’s intentional. That’s just my personal opinion. I think there’s an intent to keep us divided. I really believe that. And when there’s this division, there’s also animosity, there’s also hatred, there’s also all these negative things that happen.”
Towns believes that with the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors returning the ownership of the property to the legal heirs of Charles and Willa Bruce, a process that began in April 2021, the conversation about Bruce’s Beach, he said, can become heated quickly.
In the 1920s, the city of Manhattan Beach acquired the land from the Bruces through eminent domain to shut down their seaside resort. The couple had purchased the property at 26th Street and Highland Avenue years earlier and established it as a place for Black beachgoers to enjoy during a time when racial segregation left them with little or no such luxuries.
“And so, if you’re not careful,” Towns continued, “this whole Bruce’s Beach thing becomes a, ‘Well, the white man took our stuff,’ and, ‘The white man this’ and, ‘The man that,’ and it becomes more divisive. So, we wanted to come down and just share with people that this is not about that. One of the reasons this land was transferred back to the Bruce family was because of the task force that was launched by the city of Manhattan Beach. The city supported this transfer back to the Bruce family. Way before everybody got involved and all the politicians and all the news cameras came out, the city of Manhattan Beach was involved in this transfer. And I think that tends to get lost.”
While Towns wanted to recognize the efforts of the Bruce family for purchasing the property in 1912 and building a beachside resort for African Americans to enjoy, all while acknowledging what many have claimed was racial injustice against the Bruces, his goal was to make a point about what people can do in cooperation with each other moving forward.
“We can’t change the past,” Towns said. “But we can impact the future … We want to celebrate what the city of Manhattan Beach did to make this happen. And that latter part is one that most people will overlook.”
Towns said that while the members of his church are predominantly Black, Sunday’s service proved that people don’t have to be so white and Black, so divided.
“There were white people that came out and they spoke at the end,” Towns added. “When I was done preaching, I said, ‘Is there anyone that would like to share anything about Bruce’s Beach or about what happened here today?’ And several people — like four or five people — came up, that were not part of our church, and spoke. One was a resident. She goes, ‘We need you guys here. We love you. We appreciate you and we celebrate you.’ And this is an older white lady. And so, for us, it was more of celebrating or recognizing the Bruces’ legacy and celebrating all those involved who made this happen.”
For more information about Ekklesia Christian Community Church, go to EC3Church.org.