June 9, 2021

Get Back In The Water

by Resistance

Background show artwork for Resistance

On a stretch of beach in Southern California, a Black couple once created an oasis for Black joy. A place to swim, a place to breathe. This is the story of how it was destroyed, and the fight for its legal and spiritual reclamation.

Where to Listen


Saidu Sejan-Thomas Jr.: A couple weeks ago, I was at the beach with a bunch of Black folks. First beach day of the summer. We were chilling, vibing, vaccinated, mellinated, just enjoying being under the sun again.

Saidu: Then this NYPD chopper shows up, started flying back and forth hella close to the ground, like close enough that you could probably hit it with a frisbee if you threw it right. Or close enough that they could probably hit you if they aimed right. I felt myself bracing for some kind of impact. I tensed up in a way that I wasn't just moments before. In just a few seconds, I went from wanting to relax to wanting to run.

Saidu: We didn't know why they were there, why they kept circling back and forth, but I realized in that moment that there's so few places you can just go and be Black and chill without having to worry about shit like, "What are the police up to?" Places that are literally designed for you to just pull up, drop your shoulders, let your guard down, and fall asleep on the sand next to a bunch of strangers. The beach? It's one of those places—or at least it should be.

Saidu: The homie, and one of the producers of the show, Bethel Habte, she was there that day too, and she's been thinking a lot about what beaches have and haven't been for Black folks. The story she has for y'all is about how something as simple as our leisure was once a thing we had to fight for, and are still fighting for 'til this day.

Saidu: On today's episode, bring the music, the snacks, the drinks, 'cause we are outside. Right after this short break. Oh, there's some strong language in this one, so just a warning.

Bethel Habte: A few years ago, I planned a trip out to LA to see a friend. As a new and loyal transplant to New York City, I didn't want to believe the hype about LA, but I had a feeling it would be just as incredible as everyone made it out to be. And honestly? It was. On that trip, we hiked in the Topanga mountains and gawked at the gorgeous houses on the Venice Canal. We biked along the beach in Santa Monica, and ate lobster rolls in Malibu. The weather, the palm trees, the ocean, the hills, the sun, LA lived up to every damn song singing its praises.

Bethel: Jessa Williams loved LA from the moment she visited as a teenager. So it was a dream come true to move there two years ago from the Midwest. No more winter, barely any rain, and as much time on the beach as her schedule would allow. And it was on one of those beach trips that she saw something by the water. Something pretty cute.

Jessa Williams: I noticed this little group of kids. They had on, like, little matching t-shirts because they must have been part of, like, some kind of like summer day camp. And they were getting into the water with a couple, like, instructors, I guess. And they were, like, surfing or learning how to surf.

Bethel: Aww!

Jessa Williams: They were so little!

Bethel: How old do you think?

Jessa Williams: Like, little kids. Like, my son is 10. They were much younger than him. Like, maybe, like, six, seven, eight years old. Tiny little kids.

Bethel: Jessa decided to sign up her son for lessons. She figured if those little munchkins could do it, he could too. She found this group that gave free lessons for Black and brown folks, and a few months later, on the day of his first lesson, they woke up early and headed to the beach.

Jessa Williams: I think he was a little—what's the word? He was a little intimidated.

Bethel: Mm-hmm.

Jessa Williams: And I could just tell from just kind of like seeing his face that he was like, "Oh, God. You know, what's this gonna be like?" But he didn't say anything. And it was a Black woman that was teaching him, who was one of the co-founders of this group. She basically, like, you know, strapped the leash onto his ankle. You know, they put a little wetsuit top on him and took him out in the water. And so she was just pushing him into the waves, and he was popping up on the board already. And I was being a mom, like ...

Bethel: Wow, first lesson?

Jessa Williams: Yeah, it was so exciting! I'm just running around like the crazy mom, like, taking videos and screaming for him. Like, "Go Marcello!" And he was having fun. It was cool. It was, like, very clear that, like, yeah, we're gonna do this again.

Bethel: She kept driving him to lessons. Marcello out in the water, Jessa on the beach taking pictures, until one day, the surf instructor turned to Jessa ...

Jessa Williams: And they're kinda like, "Okay, Mom, when are you going to try?" You know?

Bethel: Oh, wow! They're like, "Hey!" [laughs]

Jessa Williams: Yeah. And I was like, "Oh, I'll probably do it one day." But in my head I was like, literally never—I will never do this. [laughs] But then, you know, my son was right there and, like, "Yeah, mom, when are you gonna do it? Like, do it with me, do it with me." And I didn't want to, like, punk out in front of my son, so I was like, "All right, give me the wetsuit." [laughs]

Bethel: Jessa's athletic, but surfing was one of the hardest things she'd ever done.

Jessa Williams: It's fast, right? It's fast. The wave is coming. You have to be in the right position on the wave and have the right timing and paddle the right way and, like, learning how to pop up the right way. And if and when you don't—which for me is all the time—if you don't do it correctly, like, this huge wave is gonna crash on top of your head and throw you around.

Bethel: But all that didn't stop her. She liked the challenge of being out there, and all there was to keep track of: her body, the board, the way she moved with the waves. It put her in a different headspace. One she really liked.

Jessa Williams: It's this thing that I'm doing that's, like, forcing me to just kind of block out the rest of the noise of the world or of my own thoughts or what's going on in my head, because there's a thing right in front of me that I have to, like, give all of my focus and attention to. So it was, like, forcing me to just be present. So after spending an hour or two out in the water, you get out of the water, and you just feel fucking amazing.

Bethel: While Jessa was surfing, all the B.S. of the world fell away. It was a chance to breathe, to listen to the waves, to feel the sun on her face, to be at peace with this impersonal force of nature. To enter its flow. But this meditative magic on the surf, something interrupted that. It wasn't the roughness of the waves or her body failing her, it was something else. A challenge that had nothing to do with the water, or how she moved in it. It was a hit below the belt. It happened one day in December in Manhattan Beach.

Jessa Williams: We got to the water that day, and I was feeling good. We were at this spot called El Porto, which is one of the spots in Manhattan Beach. It's a popular surf spot. There's always a ton of people there. We walked all the way down the beach, like, past the line up, past where, like, the concentration of surfers are all kind of sitting in the water together, you know? And I'm, like, lugging this heavy, like, eight- or nine-foot board, walking down the beach. Like, I got to walk past everybody to kind of, like, find my little safe space. [laughs]

Bethel: Jessa's sitting on her board near her friends, out of the way of the serious surfers, just enjoying the water and waiting for the right wave to catch. And then she noticed these three guys right next to her.

Jessa Williams: You know, three white guys, and they're surfing. And I was like, "Did I just hear somebody say n*****?" The first time I thought I heard it, I kind of looked around. Nobody reacted. So that's why I thought, like, oh, maybe I misheard. Then I heard it again, and I heard him say, "Fucking n*****." My eyes are, like, wide. I'm just kind of in disbelief. Like, I know I heard it this time. I'm like, "Yo!" to the—not to the guy, but to these other two guys. "What's up with your boy? Like, get your boy."

Bethel: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Jessa Williams: Like, he's wilding. Like, I can hear him. And they were like, "Oh, no, no, don't worry about him. Don't worry about him. Yeah, he's trippin'. Don't worry about him." Like, totally brushing it off. And as me and these other two guys are sort of having this exchange, the guy who had said it can see that, like, I'm calling him out now or, like, you know, I'm talking to these guys about him and he didn't like that. So he, like, interrupts and shouts over. And he's like, "Yeah." He's like, "Yeah, you heard me." He's like, "You heard what I said, fucking n*****. And if you don't like it, you can go fuck yourself, bitch." That's what he said.

Bethel: Whoa!

Jessa Williams: At that point, I'm hot. Like, I'm—I can't even—it's hard to even think about it now because I'm just like, I can't believe this person just out of nowhere. I mean, not even out of nowhere in any context, but definitely with no context is, like, coming at me like this. At that point it's like, I'm not gonna, like, sit here on my surfboard and, like, talk about this right now. Like, I was just like, I need to get the fuck out of the water.

Bethel: What happened to Jessa happened a couple months later to two other Black surfers in Manhattan Beach—same town, same shit, different bold-ass racist. The water has always been a political place for Black folks—that's nothing new. There've been signs and messages loud and subtle that we were not welcome. Whether it was what happened to Jessa that day on the surf, or the "No Blacks Allowed" signs that Jessa's dad grew up with, racist white people have long wanted to carve out heavens for themselves, and get itchy when they see us in them.

Bethel: But there was a different blueprint for this particular place. It was drafted in 1912, about a 15-minute walk from where Jessa was surfing. For a brief window of time, this place, this water, this stretch of Manhattan Beach, was an oasis for Black folks. A place to really put your guard down. A place to swim, to breathe, to forget about the world for a while. If Jessa surfed out here back then, she could've swam out, sat on her board, and felt the faceless force of the ocean on her terms.

Bethel: This is the story of that oasis in Manhattan Beach—the people who fought for it to exist, and the people who are picking up that fight now. I'm Bethel Habte, and this is Resistance, a show about refusing to accept things as they are, even when it means making a beautiful place answer for its ugly past.


Bethel: About a mile up the beach from where Jessa was surfing, there's a park overlooking the water. Two blocks basically, of bright green grass, trees peppered around the edges and a few white benches. What's important isn't what's there now—it's what used to be there.

Chief Duane Yellow Feather Shepard: Well, my mom used to drive by there, and there was this big, ugly vacant lot there. Bunch of weeds, it was brown, it had a bunch of weeds and whatever. And she said that that used to be land that belonged to the Bruce family. And that's pretty much all I knew about it.

Bethel: This is Chief Duane Yellow Feather Shepard. On his father's side, he's a chief of the Pocasset Wampanoag tribe in what's now Massachusetts. And on his mother's side, he's a descendant of Bruces—the people who used to own this land. When he was a kid, his mom protected him from the full story of the Bruces.

Chief Duane Yellow Feather Shepard: At that time they weren't, you know, open to telling young people these sordid details of the abhorrent terrorism that our people suffered.

Bethel: But as Chief Duane grew up, he started doing some genealogical research. And all of the details—good and bad—came into focus. Now he carries his family's story like a hot coal he can't put down. Chief Duane's descended from a couple named Charles and Willa Bruce. In an old photo of them, you can see Charles, this slim guy with a thick mustache and his hair parted in the middle. And Willa, she's got high cheekbones and sweet eyes that droop a little bit along the edges. Both of them arrived in LA in the early 1900s. Willa worked as a cook, and Charles worked as a chef on a train car. But they had this dream: to work for themselves, and to build a business by the beach. Back then, even the beaches in California were basically whites-only.

Chief Duane Yellow Feather Shepard: I mean, they've taken a whole coastline of the United States and made it whites-only, you know? As if they owned it. God put that there for the benefit of all mankind.

Bethel: Charles and Willa wanted to make that true, to own some land by the beach so Black people could enjoy it too. They saved up money from their jobs and, in 1912, they bought a lot right by the water in Manhattan Beach. The going rate for a lot was around $50 to $100, but Charles and Willa were charged $1,200 for their land—a Black tax. It wasn't fair, but after the sale, the land was theirs. First they opened a tiny booth on it, a place to buy drinks and snacks. And then they built a big building: Bruce's Resort.

Chief Duane Yellow Feather Shepard: It was a large, wooden building. It was on—part of it was on stilts so that they'd have a great view of the ocean there. And it had a restaurant on the bottom floor, a dance hall on the second floor for social functions. And then next door, they had the bathhouse where they would rent bathing suits and sell water novelties.

Bethel: The resort became exactly what the Bruce's had in mind: a Mecca for Black beachgoers.

Chief Duane Yellow Feather Shepard: It was a magnet for African Americans up and down the coast of California to come there and, you know, enjoy the beach. There was a large, large contingency of African Americans coming there on a weekly basis, especially during the weekends. So, you know, people came there to have lunch, dinner, dance and listen to jazz upstairs in the dining hall. And also there was weddings and graduations and you name it, they had them there at Bruce's Beach. And so they became very prominent and very well-to-do business owners.

Bethel: The resort was successful for Charles and Willa, but it was also offering the Black community in Southern California something they never had before. Bruce's Beach was like this home base where nothing but the sun and sand and water could touch the Black patrons pouring in. And you can see how much Black people seemed to enjoy themselves. In these old pictures you can see couples, kids, all smiling in these old-timey bathing suits and bonnets. But Bruce's Beach wasn't just for Black people.

Chief Duane Yellow Feather Shepard: We never called it, or our people never called it a Black beach. It was Bruce's Resort. And so some of the patrons there had white spouses and acquaintances, you know, and business partners. And they would bring them to the resort as well. You know, it was a mixed crowd. And I think that's what really incurred the ire of the Ku Klux Klan was seeing the races mixing and having a great time and socializing together without any problems. And so they said, "Well, you know," they decided let's go start some problems, let's create some problems for those people there.

Bethel: Some unidentified "concerned citizens" told the LA Times that they quote, "Deplored the state of affairs" of the resort, and said they would try to "Find a remedy, if the Negroes tried to stay."

Chief Duane Yellow Feather Shepard: They tried to, you know, do everything they could: slashing tires and starting fights and burning crosses and mattresses under the porch of the resort. People were being attacked there. You know, not just Charles and Willa Bruce, but the patrons were being attacked.

Bethel: The so-called concerned citizens were doing everything they could to let Black visitors know they weren't welcome. Putting up "No Trespassing" signs and fake "10-minute Parking" signs.

Chief Duane Yellow Feather Shepard: When you get out of the water, you've got a ticket on your car because you can only park there 10 minutes. If you stay there after dark, you're gonna be harassed by the Ku Klux Klan. So it's not a law on the books, but it's understood if you're Black, you better have your ass out of there by sundown. It's a sundown town, as they call it.

Bethel: But the Manhattan Beach City Council also tried to put some laws on the books. An ordinance that said people couldn't dress or undress in cars, an ordinance that allowed council to regulate businesses for quote, "public order" and "public morals." When all of that didn't scare the Bruces away or stop their patrons from pouring in and having a good time, the Manhattan Beach City council took some drastic action.

Chief Duane Yellow Feather Shepard: The city council finally got fed up, and they decided to take the land under eminent domain.

Bethel: The City told the Bruces they had a quote, "urgent need" to build a public park on the Bruce's land. And they did the same to a few other Black residents, too. With eminent domain, they had the legal power to take it all.

Chief Duane Yellow Feather Shepard: Charles and Willa Bruce in 1927 went to court to fight back, and fight the amount they were going to be given.

Bethel: The Bruces had two lots at that point. If they sold them on the market back then, they would've expected about $70,000. If they had to give up their land, that's the amount they would've wanted for it. And the Bruces were also demanding restitution.

Chief Duane Yellow Feather Shepard: They wanted $50,000 in punitive damages for the police department not defending them against these terrorist acts, these abhorrent terrorist acts of the Ku Klux Klan. These attacks that were on their life, you know, not just on property. They were trying to kill these people.

Bethel: But instead of the $70,000 the Bruces were asking for their property and the $50,000 they were asking in restitution, the city came back with just $14,500.

Chief Duane Yellow Feather Shepard: Which they had to take. They had literally gone broke fighting these people for the past six years in the courts. And so therefore, they had to take the $14,000 and get out of Manhattan Beach. They were under threat of death from the Ku Klux Klan, so they weren't gonna move back there. They couldn't have a business there, as we now know. So they left there destitute.

Bethel: And so what happened to them after they lost the land? Where did they go?

Chief Duane Yellow Feather Shepard: Well, it took them three years to get the money, so they were even worse off after that. They got the judgment in 1929, they didn't get the money until 1932. They went to the east side of Los Angeles, and ended up working as cooks in diners at other people's restaurants.

Bethel: The Bruces took this hard, but Willa took it especially hard.

Chief Duane Yellow Feather Shepard: Oh, she lost her mind, you know, from the stress and the worry of trying to survive. This person was a thriving business owner, you know? What happens when Wall Street crashes? People jump out of windows. Well, she didn't do that. She internalized all that stress, and it drove her crazy.

Bethel: In 1934, Willa Bruce died. And a year later, so did Charles.

Chief Duane Yellow Feather Shepard: Probably from a broken heart, from losing his wife. A broken heart, from losing his business, you know, his livelihood. A broken heart from not being able to pass down generational wealth to his son and his family. And so, you know, just heartbroken.

Bethel: When I think of the Bruce Resort, I think of that scene in Cinderella—the one where she's cobbled together a pink gown she sewed by hand. The dress meant a good time at the ball, and it was also a ticket to a better life. Then the wicked stepsisters come along, salty and jealous and hateful, and tear the dress apart. In the Bruce family story, though, there's no fairy Godmother to create something beautiful on the other side of that pain. There's just the pain and the knowledge that they'd created something beautiful, and that it could've been a ticket to a better life.

Chief Duane Yellow Feather Shepard: They've been denied an inheritance from their family, which anybody would want. You know, that white people, the people that did that to our people are still benefiting from here today. That generational wealth is being handed down to them. But our generational wealth has been denied us. So even though their ancestors committed those acts, our ancestors, our descendants are still suffering from those acts. So yeah, we would love to pay off college tuitions and pay off mortgages and help people start businesses in our family. And we don't have that opportunity.

Bethel: The excuse the city gave when they kicked the Bruce family off their land was that they'd be using the land for a public park they needed "urgently," in their words. Once they owned the land though, the city let the land sit. It sat dormant, weeds growing, for 30 years. It's as if they said to the Bruces, "We don't want this thing, we just don't want you to have it." And that's actually pretty close to the actual reason, at least from one white member of the Manhattan City Council at the time. His name was Frank Daugherty. He wrote this article in 1945, during the 30-year period before they turned the land into a park, but after they ran the Bruces out of town.

Bethel: He said: "At one time, we thought that the Negro problem was going to stop our progress. They came here in truckloads with banners flying, bound for Manhattan Beach. We tried to buy them out, but they would not sell, so we voted to condemn them and make a city park there. We had to protect ourselves. Our attorney advised members of the council never to admit the real purpose in establishing the park, especially during the council meeting."

Bethel: Looking back on it all, he said: "Those Negroes were Americans, and had as much right to be here as we did. I always felt that it was a mean trick to make them leave their homes, but it was the only way out."

Bethel: Eventually, the city made good on their bogus claim, their "mean trick." They built a park. Planted a few trees, installed a few white benches. On the streets around the park, new houses went up, block by block, in shades of beige and white, with terracotta roofs and balconies overlooking the ocean. The population grew from 850 residents in 1920 to 17,000 in 1950, to 35,000 in 2019. And then one day in 2020, a Black woman in Manhattan Beach learned about what happened to the Bruces, and decided to do something about it. That's after the break.

Bethel: Welcome back. Kavon Ward is a single mom with chocolate skin and an accent she can trace to another Manhattan. She moved to Manhattan Beach to be close to her daughter's grandparents in the next town over. And being by the water was a nice perk.

Kavon Ward: There's a calmness to it, the smell, the feel, the breeze, all of it. There's a calmness, a freeing feeling that I get when I'm by the water and, you know, a place where I can just kind of let my mind be free and think about things and reflect.

Bethel: Kavon had heard the story of Bruce's Beach, and one day last year she decided to visit. She walked over to the park and found a plaque there that was installed in the mid-2000s. It tells the story of Bruce's Beach in a few lines, and begins by crediting the white founder for setting the land aside for the Bruces, and talks about the eminent domain stuff in passive voice.

Kavon Ward: I just remember it being like this white man who had given this stuff to Black people, but it didn't make sense that if he had given this land to Black people, why did he allow for it to be taken away?

Bethel: The plaque also said, quote: "The Manhattan Beach City Council renamed the park as Bruce's Beach in July 2006, commemorating our community's understanding that friendship, goodwill and respect for all begins within our own boundaries, and extends to the world community. All are welcome."

Bethel: And after reading that kumbaya language on the plaque, Kavon thought about what it actually meant: that Black families used to call this place home, and that they weren't here anymore, and that it wasn't their choice to leave.

Kavon Ward: I see the plaque, and then I remember feeling, just feeling this—this feeling of injustice when I got to the park for the first time, because I saw a whole bunch of white people rolling around in the grass and playing and jogging. And then I saw all of these beautiful homes that were developed around the park, which were owned by white people, right? And so I'm coming into this with that emotion.

Bethel: Kavon also knew from experience the line "All are welcome," was way too generous for this place. She thought about this thing that happened the first week she moved to Manhattan Beach. She was walking her daughter in a stroller.

Kavon Ward: I remember she was covered up, she was asleep in her stroller so you couldn't see her. But I sat down on a bench at Polliwog Park, and this older white woman sat next to me and asked me what family I nannied for. So there was this assumption that I was of service to the people in this community, and that I, as a Black person, could not live in this community. And I think that was primarily because in her head, I couldn't afford it, right? Or it could've been, we do everything in our power to keep Black people out, so I know she doesn't live here.

Bethel: Manhattan Beach is about 80 percent white. It is 0.5 percent Black. And the few Black people who do live here know that being mistaken for the nanny is just scratching the surface. I watched this video of a white mom talking about what it's like to raise her young Black kid in Manhattan Beach. She said that kids are always touching his hair, that kids were rougher on him during flag football games, that another parent compared his palms to dog paws.

Bethel: And then there was this one day, when her son was watching an NBA game. She heard him say "Go N-word, go!" And when she asked him where he learned that, he said that he thought that's what Black people are called, that another student always whispers it in his ear at school.

Kavon Ward: The world overall needs to be better as it relates to how they treat Black people.

Bethel: Yeah.

Kavon Ward: And I just happen to be in Manhattan Beach, and the Bruces were disenfranchised. They were messed up, messed over so bad.

Bethel: This felt like one wrong that Kavon could help right. She and Chief Duane started talking.

Kavon Ward: And I told him that I don't know, you know, what I can do, but I have a mouth.

Bethel: [laughs] That's amazing!

Kavon Ward: You know, I have been an advocate for a very, very long time.

Bethel: Kavon's an activist, a poet, a former Congressional Black Caucus Foundation fellow, and a lobbyist after that. She didn't just have a mouth, she had the experience to help make something happen. She wanted the land to be deeded back to the Bruce family, but she also wanted to get damages for what the Bruce family had been put through by the Manhattan Beach city government, for the mean trick members like Frank Daugherty played back then.

Kavon Ward: They did some horrible things to the Bruces and to so many other Black families, and so they need to pay for that. They need to pay for lost business. Like, this is 96 years that they've lost business, they've lost money that they could have earned through their business, you know what I'm saying? So the city can't be left off the hook. They need to pay.

Bethel: Kavon linked the Bruce family to an organization that got them lawyers who would take up their case pro bono. She started a petition demanding justice for the Bruces. She organized a protest with support from Black Lives Matter chapters and even the national one. Eventually, the city of Manhattan Beach announced they were forming a task force to examine the issue. And at the family's request, Kavon applied to be a part of it.

Kavon Ward: There was not an interview. It was like, literally you're on Zoom, three reasons why you think you should be on this task force. And then they hung up on you. And I said, "Well, I have policy experience, I'm a former lobbyist, and I have task force experience." I said, "Two, the family asked me, and this is a task force centered around the family." And I said, "Three, but for my advocacy, this task force would not have been created."

Bethel: [laughs] Boom boom boom! [laughs]

Kavon Ward: And then they said, "Thank you. Goodbye." And they didn't pick me.

Bethel: How did you feel about that?

Kavon Ward: I knew it wasn't about me. Like, about me not being qualified, because I was overqualified. But what it said to me was that they weren't gonna do anything of substance, because had they chosen me, they knew I was going to demand that they do something of substance.

Bethel: While the task force talked for months about whether or not to change the language on the plaque, and whether or not there should be a public art installation in the park, and whether or not the city should write an apology to the Bruce family, Kavon kept working outside the system. She started Justice for Bruce's Beach, made press appearances, got the attention of Janice Hahn, a local politician who supported a bill that would allow LA county—which owns the land now—to return the land back to the Bruces. And just last week, that bill passed the California state senate. But even once that bill is signed into law, there's gonna be a lot more to work out. There's no precedent for something like this.

Kavon Ward: Think about it. If this land is restored back to the Bruces, it will be the first time in American history that land is given back to Black people.

Bethel: Wow!

Kavon Ward: I believe we will be making history, and it will set a precedent.

Bethel: But even if the Bruces get their land back, it'll only go a tiny way in restoring the lost wealth that the Bruce family would've been able to make had the city not booted Willa and Charles off the land. The Bruces are getting ready to sue the city for those damages.

Chief Duane Yellow Feather Shepard: We're not going away. You know, we're gonna be here and we're gonna fight. And if something happens to me, the next generation is gonna pick it up. And if something happens to them or when they get too old to do it, the next generation is gonna pick it up. We're gonna continue this on and on and on and on until we find a city council in Manhattan Beach that is willing to say, "Okay, we're tired of this. Give these people what they want and let's let this go away. It's been a black eye on our community."

Bethel: Chief Duane says he's planning for the day they win this fight once and for all. He imagines a reunion, getting all the Bruces together, young and old, for a big party on their land.

Chief Duane Yellow Feather Shepard: Well, I'll be elated. It'll be a big slab of concrete off my back. You know, I will be walking around four or five feet off the ground, I'm sure, you know, that I was able to get this to happen for my people. You know, I'm a chief, like I said before. And there's no greater honor that a chief can have than to fight for his people and die for his people. So I'm living up to my requirements as a chief. I'm fighting for my people. And I will be very happy to see them have victory.

Bethel: When it comes to justice, it seems like there's always been these two frontiers. The first frontier is the concrete stuff: the civil rights bills, the anti-discrimination policies, the pledges that Black Lives Matter, the restitution efforts to the Bruce family. But running alongside that concrete frontier is this other frontier—a spiritual one made up of these tiny battles we fight every day. Battles rooted in the basic idea that we're allowed to take up space. Surfers like Jessa are fighting that battle in Manhattan Beach, the same battle the Bruces and their patrons fought a hundred years earlier.

Jessa Williams: In the 1920s, it was like, you're not welcome here and, you know, here we are in the 2020s, and the message is still very clear.

Bethel: The day that white guy called Jessa out of her name, after his white buddies tried to downplay it, after the first guy doubled down, Jessa didn't want to fight. She just wanted to get out of the water.

Jessa Williams: So I, like, make my way in. Probably, like, just paddled in and let a wave, like, fucking knock me over and push me in.

Bethel: Yeah.

Jessa Williams: One of the guys that I was with, who had been teaching me, he's like,"What's up? What's up? Like, what's going on?" Because he could see I was upset. And I was like, "Yo, I'm going back to the car. I'm going back to the car. Like, I got to get the fuck out of here."

Bethel: Jessa made her way to the parking lot and was ready to go home.

Jessa Williams: But my friends that I was with and the guy who, you know, had been teaching me was like, "You're getting back in the water. Like, you're not allowed to just, like, grab your stuff and, like, leave feeling like this." He was like, "You don't have to stay in for a long time but, like, you got to get back in the water. Like, obviously, we're not gonna let him ruin our day. Fuck that guy." And so we got back in the water and I got a great wave.

Bethel: Yay! [laughs]

Bethel: Jessa sent me a GoPro video of her son surfing for the first time. He's out there in his wetsuit with a yellow, blue and red surfboard. He paddles out and, like, giggles with anticipation as he gets ready for a wave.

[GoPro clip: Are you ready? Yeah. Paddle, paddle, paddle, paddle!]

Bethel: He stands up on his board for four full glorious seconds, and gives a thumbs-up to his teacher afterward. Here he is with the whole beach and water spread out in front of him, under a big open sky and endless water.

Jessa Williams: I want him to know that, like, all of this stuff out here is for him if he's interested in it, you know? Because he even said, like, "Oh, I thought this was for the white kids." And I'm like, "All of it is for you. Period. Like, full stop. This beautiful place is yours too. Not even 'is yours too,' it's yours.

Bethel: It's yours. Period.

Jessa Williams: It's yours.

[GoPro clip: Was that fun? Yeah, that was fun.]

Bethel: Jessa's trying to get her son to see that part that gets lost when we focus too much of the conversation on Black lives merely mattering. It's what Willa and Charles wanted their resort patrons to know. We're not just here to live. We're here to thrive.

Saidu: Thank you so much for listening. This episode of Resistance was reported by Bethel Habte. Our show is produced by Bethel Habte, Aaron Randle and Salifu Sesay Mack. And hosted by me, Saidu Tejan-Thomas Jr. Our production assistant is Navani Otero. Our supervising producer is Sarah McVeigh. We're edited by Lynn Levy, Lydia Polgreen, Brendan Klinkenberg and Jorge Just.

Saidu: Mixing, scoring and magic by Catherine Anderson. Additional scoring and theme by Bobby Lord. Our music supervisor is Liz Fulton. Original compositions by Drea the Vibe Dealer, and Teiji Mac.

Saidu: Fact checking is by Rosemarie Ho. Our show art is by Darien Birks of The Stuyvesants. And credits music—what you're listening to right now—is "Everything I Need" by Geminelle.

Saidu: And special thanks to Allison Hales and historian Allison Rose Jefferson who wrote a book about African American leisure sites called Living The California Dream.

Saidu: And if you want to learn more about the folks giving free surf lessons to Black, Indigenous and POC surfers in So Cal, the people who taught Jessa and her son Marcello to surf, you can check them out on Instagram @Color_the_water.

Saidu: You can also follow us on IG. We're @Resistancepodcast. And you can find me on Twitter at @Saiduttj. If you enjoyed this episode, tell a friend about it. Resistance is a Spotify original podcast and Gimlet production. All right, see y'all in two weeks.