For more on the history of the Ebony Beach Club, read this excellent article in the Atlanta Black Star.

At last week’s City Council meeting (Agenda, Item 16L), the Council voted unanimously to right one of the historical wrongs from the city’s past. The Council instructed staff to create a plan to create a plan for the city to provide long overdue to a black entrepreneur who unjustly had his property stolen from him by the city in the 1950’s.

In 1957, Silas White purchased a block of beachfront property to create a space where African Americans could peacefully enjoy a day at the beach without having to deal with the racism of the day…at least for a few hours. The Ebony Beach Club would have featured not just beach access but a jazz club, stage and social hall. Silas remarked at the time that the club would be “one of the best establishments in America for lodging and comfort of my people.” 

But the city government, like much of the rest of the country, was overtly racist and worked to crush White’s dream. The city denied his permits and then used tools such as eminent domain to steal his land. The city demolished the existing structure and the rehab work already done by White and built a surface parking lot.

Milana Davis, White’s niece describes this historical crime as “An open wound with no remedy,” at a Change.Org petition by Where Is My Land calling for the land to be returned. Where Is My Land is a small team that works with black families across the country that had land stolen from them by governments during America’s more racist past.

At Wednesday’s meeting, the Council heard and approved a motion by Councilmember Caroline Torosis to begin the process of making reparations to the Silas family. The motion doesn’t require the city to do anything in the short term other than make a plan for the Council to approve, but strong statements during the discussion made it clear that they intend to follow through on their promise. 

Torosis also acknowledged the work of activists to bring this issue to the Council’s attention.

“I want to particularly thank the White Family, @WhereIsMyLand and Kavon Ward without whom this would not have been possible. Onward,” Torosis writes on her Instagram account.

This effort follows the example of Los Angeles County which returned Bruce’s Beach to the Bruce family in 2021. The City of Manhattan Beach used similar tactics to steal that Beach in the 1920’s which was also owned by a black family to create a safe place for black people to go to the beach. 

Full return of the property to the White family is unlikely because the Viceroy Hotel currently sits on the property where the Ebony Beach Club should have rested. In related news, the Viceroy is one of five hotels in Santa Monica that is unable or unwilling to reach accord with Unite Here! Local 11 and is under strike from its mostly black and hispanic staff.

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