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Bruce's Beach History Panel Member Resigns

Jul 21, 2021 07:38PM ● By Jeanne Fratello
A member of the Bruce's Beach History Advisory Committee resigned on Wednesday morning following a meeting in which City Council members called for further revisions to the language on the proposed plaques.

Isla Garraway, a surgeon and Manhattan Beach resident, announced her resignation in an email to City Council members and fellow history panel members on Wednesday morning.

In her email, she criticized councilmembers for seeking additional input on the language on the plaques when the information was taken directly from the Bruce's Beach history report that the City Council had approved last month.

Garraway released a full statement to DigMB that read as follows:

"It was an honor to be selected by City Council to serve on the Bruce's Beach Task Force and the History Advisory Board. My mother grew up in the Jim Crow South, and I learned a lot about the indignities of racial segregation through her recounting of her firsthand experiences.

"Consequently, when compiling our report, I delved deeply into the broad range of recoverable historical documents that detailed the discriminatory treatment of the Bruces, their guests and other Black families who resided in Manhattan Beach at the time. Uncovering and acknowledging the truth of what happened was our charge. We did that in the history report, and the City Council was on the right side of history when it voted to accept this report.

"Now the Council must lead the Manhattan Beach community in accepting the facts meticulously documented in the report and reflected in the proposed plaque language. I resigned because when the City Council began refuting the facts derived from the report that it had previously accepted, it was clear that I could no longer play an effective role.

"I will be rooting for our citizens and elected leaders to find the courage, empathy, and resolve needed to honor the legacy of the Bruces, and to help ensure that what happened to the first Black families to take up residence in Manhattan Beach will never be repeated. It is time to accept the plaque language proposed by the History Advisory Board and move on to show the world how inclusive our city can be."

Councilmember and Mayor Pro Tem Hildy Stern, one of the co-chairs of the Bruce's Beach Task Force, gave the following statement to DigMB: 

"It was with sincere regret that I read Isla Garraway's email resigning from the History Advisory Board. Isla, like all the other members of the original Bruce's Beach Task Force, volunteered readily and with dedication to respectfully advance the mission of the task force. Her continued willingness to serve on the history subcommittee and then the History Advisory Board, along with the other members of the HAB, was remarkable. Isla made an impactful contribution to the important work of researching and documenting the factual history of Bruce's Beach.  I greatly appreciate Isla and am truly sorry she has stepped down."

As of press time, Manhattan Beach Mayor Suzanne Hadley, and Councilmember Steve Napolitano, the other co-chair of the Bruce's Beach Task Force, had not responded to requests for comment. 

Garraway was the third resident out of 13 to be chosen for the nonpartisan Bruce's Beach Task Force in October, during a collaborative selection process in which every member of the City Council was given an opportunity to nominate and vote on potential members.

She sat on the Bruce's Beach History Advisory Committee along with Tyler St. Bernard, Lindsey Fox, and Kristin Long Drew.

Garraway is a surgeon-scientist and principal investigator of a UCLA laboratory that is focused on characterizing human prostate stem and tumor-initiating cells, as well as biological and micro-environmental interactions that influence metastatic progression. She maintains a clinical practice within the Greater Los Angeles VA Healthcare System, where she also conducts clinical research. She holds an M.D. and Ph.D. from UCLA.

Bruce's Beach Plaque Background

The story of Bruce's Beach dates back to the early 1900s, when Charles and Willa Bruce built a popular Black beach resort in Manhattan Beach. The property was one of the very few beaches where Black residents could go, because most other Southern California beaches were off-limits to people of color. 

By the end of the 1920s, with pressure from community members who did not want Black beachgoers in town, Manhattan Beach's Board of Trustees (a precursor to the modern city council) claimed the land under eminent domain and displaced the Bruce family as well as other families who had settled in the area. 

It was not until 2006 that the city of Manhattan Beach publicly acknowledged this chapter of its history by naming the area east of the beachfront property Bruce's Beach Park and establishing a plaque in that location, and it was not until the summer of 2020 that a movement began growing for the city to take further action to recognize the Bruces.

After a summer of controversy surrounding the history of Bruce's Beach, the Manhattan Beach City Council agreed to form a task force to look at new ways to recognize and commemorate Bruce's Beach Park. The task force was disbanded after it delivered its report in March; the city adopted the History Advisory Committee's report in June.

The History Advisory Committee has been working on language for two proposed plaques; one to replace the existing plaque at Bruce's Beach Park, and one to be placed on the Strand at the location of the Bruce's original property, which is now owned by the county and is home to the L.A. County Lifeguard Headquarters. The panel proposed the following language [linked here] for the Strand plaque and for the Bruce's Beach Park plaque.

Meanwhile, L.A. County has embarked on a process to return the land to the Bruce family.

At Tuesday night's City Council meeting, a city staffer reported that L.A. County officials have said they would accept whatever language for the plaque that the Manhattan Beach City Council approved.

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