What does it mean to be a patriot? Many of us may have been asking ourselves that and similar questions over the last day. On Veteran’s Day the Bowers Museum opened Test of Medal: Charles J. Shaw and the Montford Point Marines which tells the story of Charles J. Shaw, one of the first Blacks to join the United States Marine Corps (USMC) and the first Black to train an integrated platoon of Marines. What better example than Charles J. Shaw and the men who put their lives on the line defending the free world in World War II while suffering the scorn of racists at every level of the armed services. This post completes our series on Shaw by looking at his final years and a community he became a part of that has helped to keep the legacy of the Montford Point Marines alive.
Hanging Up the Bayonet
Charles J. Shaw retired from active duty in the USMC in 1963. It was a sunny day, with a lot of the attention going to his youngest daughter Patricia Shaw being a ham. After almost 20 years of being on the front lines of race equality in the Armed Services, Shaw largely returned to civilian life. Over the course of the next ten years Shaw occupied himself mostly with the BBQ Pit and continuing to serve in inactive duty. As noted in our previous post, Test of Medal: Bar-B-Que Pit Stories, the BBQ Pit required an inordinate amount of work to prepare for its busy weekends. Somewhere in here, however, Shaw found the time to join the Montford Point Marine Association.
Semper Serving the Community
Sixteen years after Camp Montford Point was desegregated in 1949, both Marines who had passed through the base and active service Black Marines gathered for a reunion in Philadelphia. It was there that the Montford Point Marine Association was born, a group which to this day remains an important nonprofit veteran’s organization dedicated to serving veterans and communities across the United States, supporting education through scholarship, and preserving the legacy of the Montford Point Marine. Himself a proud Montford Point Marine, Shaw joined the Los Angeles chapter of the Montford Point Marine Association shortly after its founding. News articles from the time show Shaw and the rest of the Montford Point Marine Association participating in charitable activities like Toys for Tots.
In 1974 Charles and Sarah Shaw sold the BBQ Pit and purchased a Winnebago to travel the country. As late as the 1970s there was no assurance that lodgings across the United States would accept Blacks for the night, so it offered a mode of travel that protected against racist hoteliers. Over the next five years, Shaw’s health progressively declined, but it never stopped him from doing things that were important to him like travelling up to the University of California Berkeley to watch his son David play football. In 1979, less than a week before passing away and against doctor’s orders, he drove into LA to share one last beer with his old trainees as the Montford Point Marine Association. Charles J. Shaw died on October 28, 1979. Among the friends and family at his funeral were fellow Montford Point Marines.
As already mentioned, the Montford Point Marines were officially recognized for their bravery, tenacity, and patriotism in 2011 when President Barack Obama awarded 20,000 unnamed Montford Point Marines with the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest award that can be bestowed to US citizens. Around that same time a memorial was built in memory of the soldiers that trained at Montford Point. Five elements of the memorial reference the battles that the soldiers fought in, the ripples of change that they started and offered a star for each of the unrecorded soldiers. Shaw never lived to be individually recognized for his efforts, but after Brenda Matthews, Charles J. Shaw’s daughter, saw another Montford Point Marine named John Smith personally awarded with the Congressional Gold Medal, she wanted her father to be recognized in the same way. Seven years later, on October 10, 2020, she was finally able to have him posthumously awarded with a Congressional Gold Medal at a ceremony at Friendship Baptist Church.
Given that the Bowers Museum has been closed for almost the entire length of the exhibition, we are excited to announce that we will be extending Test of Medal: Charles J. Shaw and the Montford Point Marines until June 27.
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.