The Commemoration of The Shelton Family Settlement at Berry College
Bruce Beach - was purchased in 1912 to create a beach for Black people during segregation in Southern California. The local council forcibly took the land in 1924. Earlier this month, officials in Los Angeles voted to return the land to the family of Willa and Charles Bruce. They bought the lots for $1,225.00 in 1912. The land is now worth an estimated $20 million.
Theft of Black land ownership from farmland to beaches can be found throughout history and almost daily. From unfair home appraisals, gentrification, and highway development (which always seems to impact Black communities), these are just a few ways wealth isn’t passed down in African American families.
Along with other stories from our community, I recently learned about the Shelton Family Settlement, which used to exist where Berry College now stands. In 2016 three cousins who are descendants of the three children of Hardy and Mary Shelton, who founded the settlement in 1874, met for the first time. The original settlement encompassed nearly 700 acres near the campus of Berry College. Karen Stewart, the fourth great-granddaughter of Hardy and Mary Shelton, joins us this morning.
I ask Stewart about the story of Hardy and Mary Shelton, who acquired acreage soon after slavery ended. While the cousins knew some of the family stories, they didn’t realize the extent of their family's property until they began doing the research. Stewart explains that all she knew was her family was connected to Georgia.
The family’s holdings at one point included 600 acres of land. There were other family settlements in the area, including the Freeman Town settlement. The Shelton family survived the Great Rome Flood of 1886, the Influenza Pandemic of 1918, and a few suspicious financial dealings. During this time, there were also night terror raids from the KKK.
According to research, what became known as the family cemetery is adjacent to Berry College behind the Possom Trot Church. For the first time, Berry College will honor the history of the land. A marker placed on the property tells the story of the Shelton Family that owned the land from 1874 until about 1924.
To follow the Shelton Family Settlement.
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