“The reason why African Americans began these places of leisure and relaxation in the outdoors was because they were excluded from going to the white establishments.”
Around the turn of the 20th century, African Americans seeking to escape racism in the South began moving to Southern California in larger numbers. Like others who migrated to the Golden State at the time, they also came in search of new opportunities and seaside recreation. But discrimination prevailed, even out West, and Black Americans found themselves barred from accessing public pools, parks, and beaches. As a result, Black entrepreneurs and community builders created their own gathering spots, such as Bruce’s Beach in Manhattan Beach and Ocean Park in Santa Monica, where people of color could enjoy surf and sand.
These successful leisure sites weren’t embraced by everyone—it wasn’t long before white residents, local developers, and members of the KKK launched campaigns of harassment. In 1922, African Americans were forced to give up plans for a beachfront project in Santa Monica. A few years later, the oceanfront property owned by the Bruce family was seized by the city through eminent domain and the resort was shut down. Today, many of these stories of Black resourcefulness and self-determination—thwarted by racist policies—have been forgotten, if not intentionally obscured. But there have been some attempts to make amends, including California’s Governor Gavin Newsom recently signing into law a new bill that will return the oceanfront property taken from the Bruce family almost a century ago to their descendants.
In this episode, historian Alison Rose Jefferson discusses these stories as documented in her book, Living the California Dream: African American Leisure Sites during the Jim Crow Era, and the need for a more inclusive look at America’s past.
For images, transcripts, and more, visit
https://blogs.getty.edu/iris/podcast-the-california-leisure-sites-pioneered-by-african-americans or http://www.getty.edu/podcasts
To buy the book Living the California Dream: African American Leisure Sites during the Jim Crow Era, visit