Grilling the Kids
Just before the Bowers Museum closed to the public, we opened Test of Medal: Charles J. Shaw and the Montford Point Marines, which tells the story of Charles J. Shaw II, the first Black Marine to train an integrated platoon of marines. Our last post in the series on his life ended with him being awarded the Congressional Gold Medal for his pioneering role in the US armed forces, but it only offered a small glimpse at who he was outside of the military. In 1953 Shaw was transferred to Camp Pendleton, California and he and his family eventually moved to Santa Ana. To supplement his family's income, in 1958 he opened one of the first Black-owned businesses in Santa Ana: the Bar-B-Que Pit. More than just a restaurant, it quickly became a keystone of the growing Black community of Little Texas. The the below passages are written by Shaw’s children and show just how important the restaurant was to the family and neighborhood. To read different accounts, click on any of the four tabs below.
Charles Shaw Ill
In 1958 my dad and a friend, Jim Jones, decided to go into a food-to-go enterprise, but it took a lot of work to get the place ready. I remember when my dad took us to see the Pit for the first time. It was a mess of a place and Wilbert and I were put to work cleaning and helping haul loads of junk to the dump just to make it into a business. I was probably in junior high when the business was started. At the time, my dad was still in the Marine Corps working at the commissary in Camp Pendleton. On Fridays I went with my dad to LA where he purchased the meat for the Bar-B-Que Pit as well as made trips to the country to buy the wood used to cook the meat. Washed lots of dishes, too.
Brenda Shaw Matthews
I worked at the Bar-B-Que pit during junior high school, high school, and junior college while doing several other jobs. After work, I would go home for a few hours, change my clothes, and go to the Bar-B-Que pit to relieve my mom so she could rest. At one time I added up my work week’s hours and it totaled about seventy. Of course, when I shared what I did over the weekend no one including my teachers believed me. During High School, I was able to go to the home football games at the Stadium on 8th Street. I ran there where my friends saved me a seat and did not seem to mind that I smelt like Bar-B-Que. After the game I ran the five blocks back to the Bar-B-Que pit. Many times, I served the football players that right after the games.
The Bar-B-Que Pit, located at 305 North Hesperian Street, was established in 1958 by a partnership of two marine families: Mary and Jim Jones and Sarah and Charles Shaw. In the early days, the families rotated working weekends. One family would work the Bar-B-Que Pit one weekend then the other the next weekend and this continued until about 1963. Soon thereafter my dad retired from the United States Marines after a 20-year career in the Military and bought Mary and Jim Jones out of the business to become the sole owner in 1963.
My first memory I have working at the Bar-B-Que Pit was going to buy supplies on Tuesday in Los Angeles. My father, David and I would get up early in the morning and drive to Los Angeles, to purchase our meat, fish and dry goods On Wednesday we would purchase supplies in Santa Ana—candy, sodas, and paper goods—in preparation of opening on Thursday. I remember going back to school after summer break and was asked to draw a picture of what you did over the summer. My picture was always a red building with my family in front and watermelons on the side. My brother David and I sold watermelons over the summer to make money to put in our Bank of America savings accounts.
Sadly, the Bowers Museum is currently closed to the public, but much of the story of Test of Medal: Charles J. Shaw and the Montford Point Marines can be seen on the Bowers' website. Click here to see more on the life of Charles J. Shaw II.
Images provided by the Shaw family. Text and images may be under copyright. Please contact Collection Department for permission to use. References are available on request. Information subject to change upon further research.
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Please note the museum is now closed in accordance to state officials' recent COVID-19 update.