Santa Ana museum honors barrier-breaking sergeant with legacy of service in U.S. Marine Corps

Sgt. Charles Jim Shaw II broke barriers and made history during his time in the U.S. Marine Corps, but his story was largely glossed over, until now.

With the help of his children, the Bowers Museum in Santa Ana is honoring Shaw's unique legacy of service.

His is an American story of bravery, brotherhood, and perseverance - a story not often told.

Blacks were not allowed to join the U.S. Marine Corps until 1942. Over the next seven years, they were forced to train separately at Montford Point Camp in North Carolina, now called Camp Johnson.

Sgt. Shaw enlisted in 1944 and later went on to become the first drill instructor of an integrated platoon.

"What it really means to me, it shows especially what they had to persevere through and how they had the sense of pride and how they had to prove themselves," said Shaw's son, David.

In 2011, President Barack Obama awarded the Congressional Gold Medal to the Montford Point Marines. In October, Sergeant Shaw was posthumously awarded a Congressional Gold Medal, which is now on display in the Bowers Museum.

"He was very, very proud to be a marine in the U.S. Marine Corps. He was very, very proud to be a Montford Point Marine," said his daughter, Brenda Matthews

Sgt. Shaw's children say he was particular, fair, firm, and at times, even friendly. He demanded respect, discipline and hard work.

When the family moved to California, his five kids went on to help him operate his successful business, the Bar-B-Que Pit, from the 1950s until 2018. The eatery opened in an area where Blacks felt comfortable to hang out, shop and relax.

Mark Bustamante, the assistant curator of exhibitions and research at the Bowers Museum talks about the sergeant's effect.

"Charles Shaw was a pioneer." he said. "You had Santa Ana city politicians coming to this restaurant. You had comics and actors from LA coming all the way down to eat the Charles Shaw BBQ. So really what he ended up creating is kind of a cornerstone of the Black community in Southern California."

The exhibition in his honor can be viewed virtually on the museum's website.
Copyright © 2021 KABC Television, LLC. All rights reserved.