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Tamiko Overton Parks
February 13, 2023
WHERE IS MY LAND HELPS EBONY BEACH CLUB FOUNDER’S FAMILY GET REPARATIVE JUSTICE FOR A DREAM DENIED
Constance White, daughter of Silas White, founder of Ebony Beach Club, and her cousin Milana Davis have requested the assistance of Where Is My Land in their family’s battle to obtain reparative justice for the theft of their land in 1958. “The unrightful seizure of Sila’s dream to provide the Black community with a beach club was not a dream deferred but a dream denied,” says Milana.
In the early 1900s, almost six million Black people left the rural south in what became known as “The Great Migration.” Many of them relocated to California in search of better lives and a beautiful place near the beach where they would be allowed to purchase property and build intergenerational wealth – something they weren’t allowed to do in southern states. In response, residents and local officials in the Los Angeles area, including Santa Monica, resisted the settlement of new Black residents. Cities responded by increasingly enforcing “Caucasian clauses”: racially restrictive covenants that prevented Blacks from purchasing homes and businesses. Racist white residents formed a “neighborhood group” called the Santa Monica Bay Protection League in 1922 in an attempt to block Black entrepreneurs from establishing businesses.
In 1958 Silas White, a Black entrepreneur became one of Santa Monica’s targets. Mr. White purchased the former Elks Club building on Ocean Avenue in Santa Monica, California, with the ambition to open a Black beach club. He planned to call it the “Ebony Beach Club” and hoped it would become “one of the best establishments in America for the lodging and comfort of my people”. The anticipation of the Ebony Beach Club created a great amount of buzz and excitement in the community given its support from artists such as Nat King Cole. Just two months before the scheduled opening, Santa Monica used eminent domain to take his property claiming it needed the land for a city parking lot. Silas fought the proceedings, arguing that the building had sat vacant for 13 years during which time the city never tried to take the property, and protested by erecting a huge sign on the building accusing the city of discrimination. Silas eventually lost his court challenge, and the building was demolished in 1960. The proposed parking lot was never built, instead, the former location of the Ebony Beach Club is now the Viceroy Santa Monica Hotel. “Once again, eminent domain was used as a cloak to hide, in this case, Santa Monica’s anti-blackness and white supremacy,” says Kavon Ward, CEO and founder of Where Is My Land.
The City of Santa Monica has acknowledged the racially motivated displacement of Blacks. Former, Mayor Sue Himmelrich, described it as “a painful part of our local history.” Absent restitution for the descendants who were denied the opportunity to inherit generational wealth and restorative actions for the community that was unable to enjoy the benefits of the Ebony Beach Club, this acknowledgment is performative, and merely a gesture. “I cannot say that denying my father’s dream of providing a beach club for Blacks killed him, but when he became sick, he gave up the will to fight; he felt defeated,” says Constance White, daughter of Silas White, founder of Ebony Beach Club.