BBQ and the Confederate flag: Maurice Bessinger dies at 83

2014-02-24T21:00:00Z 2014-02-24T21:05:26Z BBQ and the Confederate flag: Maurice Bessinger dies at 83T&D Staff Report The Times and Democrat
February 24, 2014 9:00 pm  • 

A West Columbia restaurant operator known as much for his politics as his barbecue sauce has died.

Lloyd Bessinger said his father Maurice Bessinger was 83 when he died Saturday in Lexington. He had been at the Carroll Campbell Center for Alzheimer’s Care about six months.

Lloyd said his father had not been active in managing the Piggie Park Enterprises restaurant company for about seven years.

Maurice Bessinger took down the giant U.S. flag that was a symbol of his restaurant in West Columbia after the state Legislature in 2000 agreed to a compromise to remove the Confederate battle flag from atop the Statehouse dome. Bessinger replaced the banner with a large South Carolina state flag and a Confederate banner.

Smaller versions of the state and Confederate flags went up at his other restaurants around Columbia and the state, including at the small Piggie Park at John C. Calhoun Drive and Russell Street in Orangeburg.

The headlines made by Bessinger, who was not new to controversy in business and politics related to his stated segregationist views, ultimately led to businesses such as Walmart deciding not to sell Bessinger’s barbecue sauce. He fought a losing court battle with the businesses for years afterward.

During the height of his battle over being rejected nationally, Bessinger was defended by South Carolinians and organizations such as the Rivers Bridge Sons of Confederate Veterans Camp 842.

Bessinger said his protest was based on lies about the Confederate flag used in the debate over the banner. “I stand with the truth, no matter what comes,” he said.

Controversy surrounding Bessinger subsided somewhat over time as the debate over the flag moved into the background, periodically resurfacing amid a continuing NAACP boycott of the state over the compromise that left the Confederate banner being displayed on the Statehouse grounds.

Son Lloyd Bessinger told The Associated Press that the Confederate flag was removed from the final two restaurants last year. He said most of the flags had been taken them down about a year earlier.

The Confederate banner that flies at the Orangeburg Piggie Park location has a different story. It is situated at the site of a marker erected by the SCV’s Rivers Bridge Camp to mark the location of Union Gen. Sherman’s crossing of the Edisto River during the Civil War. The memorial occupies about 120 square feet and is on property deeded by Bessinger to the SCV chapter.

The memorial and the flag have been a source of controversy locally in a related issue over plans to change the intersection at Russell and Calhoun.

Bessinger’s further connections to The T&D Region include working in his early teens at his father’s restaurant, Joe’s Grill, near Holly Hill.

In a 2001 story about brothers Maurice and Melvin Bessinger, The Post and Courier told the story of how the two came to be in the same business while being opposites politically.

The brothers built their wealth from their father Joseph James Bessinger’s mustard-based sauce. The older Melvin, who died in 2012, said the only thing he had in common with his brother was a last name and parents.

The story goes that their father traded a mule and a cow for $50 or $75 to buy a weigh station between Charleston and Columbia. Both brothers recall never having shoes or enough to eat. They said they were raised not to discriminate and played with black children.

The truck stop near Holly Hill soon turned into the barbecue joint, Joe’s Grill. On days the University of South Carolina and The Citadel played football, the place was packed. Politicians commuting to the Capitol often stopped by.

Melvin then went off to World War II. Maurice, seven years younger, learned the business, going in at 5 a.m., stoking the fires and cooking. Eventually, Maurice also went off to fight, in Korea. He returned from the Army with $600 to open the first Piggie Park restaurant in Charleston. Meanwhile, Melvin ran Joe’s Restaurant, his dad’s place, until the interstate came along in the late 1950s and traffic on U.S. 176 vanished.

In 1961, Melvin and his other younger brother, Thomas, opened Piggie Park West in West Ashley. By then, Maurice, who had moved his operations to Columbia, was an ardent George Wallace supporter. He went to court to uphold his right to deny service to blacks, saying it was not about race or racism, just “the right of a small businessman to select his customer.”

“You can’t be a racist and a Christian, and I am a Christian,” Maurice told The Post and Courier.

Copyright 2016 The Times and Democrat. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(46) Comments

  1. GatorGirl
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    GatorGirl - March 10, 2014 12:55 pm
    WadeHampton- Sweet tea? That's a laugh! You need to stay away from your still; your rotgut is confusing you! Your 1st sentence doesn't make a lot of sense. You would have given something to me??? You couldn't be talking about my opinion because I already have that! LOL. Bless your little heart. Who in the ---- cares if you want my opinion or not. You are not man enough to shut me up; or woman enough, if that may be the case.
  2. TaxPayer59
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    TaxPayer59 - March 07, 2014 12:31 pm
    Historical context??? LOL!!! Is that how you are attempting to explain Bessinger's racism?? People like you are hilarious, WADE HAMPTON! Go somewhere and fly a Confederate flag!
  3. TaxPayer59
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    TaxPayer59 - March 07, 2014 12:27 pm
    @dirtpoor --- I don't think truthorjustice is going to take too kindly to you calling him a hateful poster!
  4. TaxPayer59
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    TaxPayer59 - March 07, 2014 12:26 pm
    LOL @ WadeHampton..... I don't have to read a book about a bigot/racist. His life deeds says all that need s to be said! The only heritage he defended was the heritage of hate, which is a legacy you seem most eager to continue, Mr. WADE HAMPTON!
  5. dirtpoor
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    dirtpoor - March 07, 2014 9:23 am
    WadeHampton: We already have a hateful poster posting insensitive remarks to others!! We do not need another one.
    So, please do not stoop to their level.
  6. mackyboy1983
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    mackyboy1983 - March 06, 2014 11:41 am
    Thanks, TaxPayer59, you have enlightened me. All that mess was before my time and I've only lived here for about the past 10 years.
  7. WadeHampton
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    WadeHampton - March 06, 2014 10:23 am
    If I wanted your opinion, GutterGirl, I would have given it to you. Now, be a dear and fetch me some sweet tea.
  8. WadeHampton
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    WadeHampton - March 06, 2014 10:05 am
    Understanding historical context may reduce your current racial hatred, TaxSoaker59.
  9. WadeHampton
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    WadeHampton - March 06, 2014 10:04 am
    Obviously, you didn't read the book, TaxDodger59.
  10. TaxPayer59
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    TaxPayer59 - March 05, 2014 5:12 pm
    Only after he lost a Supreme Court ruling in 1967. I was told that he claimed that every cent he got from blacks went to fund the Ku Klux Klan. I'm not sure how true that is.... but, I wouldn't doubt it. Did you know that he once tried to have Stevie Wonder banned from performing at USC.... stating in a letter to the president of the university that "jungle music was for jungle people?"
  11. TaxPayer59
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    TaxPayer59 - March 05, 2014 5:07 pm
    He banned blacks from his restaurants in the 50's and 60's. He only allowed them after Matthew Perry took his sorry butt to court in 1967, and Bessinger lost in an 8-0 ruling at the U.S. Supreme Court. His ideals are well known because he was very verbal and not shy about airing them. I suggest you GOOGLE him if you would like to learn more about him and how he "practiced discrimination, bigotry, and hatred." It's well documented.
  12. mackyboy1983
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    mackyboy1983 - March 05, 2014 2:46 pm
    Did he not allow non-white people in his restaurant? If so, that is news to me. I will admit, I know next to nothing about the man and have ate at his restaurant a grand total of once. How was he practicing discrimination, bigotry, and hatred?
  13. truthorjustice
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    truthorjustice - March 05, 2014 11:22 am
    Obama is doing a fantastic job. And, Jessie Jackson and Sharpton are not racist.
  14. dirtpoor
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    dirtpoor - March 05, 2014 10:12 am
    172 Hours !!!! That is atrocious!!
    We need to go to the County Council and legislature to ask for our tax money BACK !!
    The R/C courses at CTC are not doing their jobs !!!!
  15. GatorGirl
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    GatorGirl - March 04, 2014 5:23 pm
    I'll bet he wouldn't have turned a black away if they came in to buy something.
  16. TaxPayer59
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    TaxPayer59 - March 04, 2014 3:34 pm
    Really??? You want his beliefs of racism and discrimination to live within you?? Change your profile name to "ineedhelp"
  17. TaxPayer59
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    TaxPayer59 - March 04, 2014 3:32 pm
    Another idiotic remark from our resident nincompoop! We can always count on you to say something stupid! You're most likely cut from the same cloth as Bessinger.
  18. TaxPayer59
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    TaxPayer59 - March 04, 2014 3:29 pm
    WadeHampton cannot answer that because there is no answer. Yes, Bessinger was a smart businessman. He built an empire. But, he failed humanity with his prejudice views! What a shame! He had the potential to do good, but didn't. Hopefully, his family will use their platform to make things better.
  19. TaxPayer59
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    TaxPayer59 - March 04, 2014 3:26 pm
    So? Does this mean he was a "great" man? I don't care about his stance on the unborn if he didn't know how to treat those who are ALREADY here! He was a racist. What percentage of people know THAT??
  20. TaxPayer59
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    TaxPayer59 - March 04, 2014 3:23 pm
    The Confederate flag stands for God??? That's a new one! Last week, in Atlanta, the Ku Klux Klan waved God around as they yelled, "White Power!" and "Jungle Fever is ruining this country!"
  21. TaxPayer59
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    TaxPayer59 - March 04, 2014 3:17 pm
    He WAS a racist. I had a friend who would deliver ETV pamphlets to his store in Columbia. One day she delivered the latest copy and he hit the ceiling! He went into a vile rant about it and demanded that she take it out of the store and never come back!!! Why, you ask?? Because, on the cover was a picture of Sammy Davis, Jr. Not only did he not want Blacks in his restaurant, he didn't even want a picture of one displayed.
  22. TaxPayer59
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    TaxPayer59 - March 04, 2014 3:12 pm
    I certainly wouldn't wish death on him. But, let's put his life into perspective. It wasn't just about a flag. It was about his willingness to practice discrimination, bigotry, and hatred towards others simply because he didn't like the color of their skin. This was his legacy. Are we suppose to pretend this wasn't a big part of his life story because he died? People should realize that when they die, they will be remembered for what they stood for during their lives.
  23. TaxPayer59
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    TaxPayer59 - March 04, 2014 3:08 pm
    There wasn't a bigger hater than Maurice Bessinger. He defended his heritage of bigotry and racism quite well.
  24. WadeHampton
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    WadeHampton - March 03, 2014 3:59 pm
    @mealymeals and you other haters. If you can shut your mouth and read, you should take a look at this: Defending My Heritage: The Maurice Bessinger Story ISBN-13: 978-0971336902
  25. GatorGirl
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    GatorGirl - March 03, 2014 1:57 pm
    WadeHampton- nealyneals does have rights to his questions & opinions whether he has invested in the history of SC or not.
  26. nealyneals
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    nealyneals - March 02, 2014 12:34 pm
    major supermarkets and I found out he had the military base how's that for an just is fun yes he's off the earth we can have some respect for his if you know the good tell it..all myself and many others keep hearing is negative..
  27. nealyneals
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    nealyneals - March 02, 2014 12:27 pm
    How is trying to insult others helping this man legacy..if you know the good that he has done for this state then you should educate,,,,when you think you're insulting me actually you're insulting this man's least his son did say he'll be making some changes,, so if his own flesh and blood is about change..come on now...its 2014.if you don't know the man's worth just say you don't know..I'm sure he had some good he was smart enough to have a chain of restaurant and his product's in
  28. nealyneals
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    nealyneals - March 02, 2014 12:14 pm
    All I did was ask a simple question,, so as usual when the question cant be answered you would always result to what you know best ignorance..I'm speaking
    to you wade hampton...
  29. WadeHampton
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    WadeHampton - March 02, 2014 9:59 am
    You just moved here, mealymeals, so you have no investment in the history of SC and therefore no rights at all. That's the problem with you self-righteous outsiders.
  30. GatorGirl
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    GatorGirl - February 27, 2014 4:35 pm
    That's a big thing in his favor with me. Nobody has a God-given right to kill a child- born or unborn!
  31. mackyboy1983
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    mackyboy1983 - February 27, 2014 11:40 am
    Good grief, people...get over it. If you don't agree with the man's views, that's fine; but you don't have to dance on his grave about it. He liked a flag that you don't like-wow. It does not make him a murderer or a rapist. We really need to get past this idea of "I disagree with you and therefore you should die."
  32. truthorjustice
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    truthorjustice - February 27, 2014 11:31 am
    Also, 90% do not know that Bessinger was against abortion BIG TIME. Drive past his West Columbia store and he had somepne with a sign standing protesting abortion.
  33. truthorjustice
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    truthorjustice - February 27, 2014 11:30 am
    Thanks for the back-up.
    BTW, Metts and the LCSD put a block seperation from the Church.
  34. nealyneals
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    nealyneals - February 26, 2014 9:35 pm
    Silence seems to give consent
  35. GatorGirl
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    GatorGirl - February 25, 2014 11:50 pm
    Millermore- Yes. Christians do try to make amends in some kind of way if there's time to do so. The Holy Spirit softens your heart & you get the feeling of love for everyone.
  36. nealyneals
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    nealyneals - February 25, 2014 11:23 pm
    Tell me where did you hear that at...I haven't seen nor heard that..why would the NAACP waste time and money demonstrating a church at that...and when in there history have they done such's folks like you that keeps the division going..
  37. nealyneals
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    nealyneals - February 25, 2014 11:13 pm
    So I guess you're not going to tell me the good things he done for the state...or do you really know..I've just moved here and would like to know...and are you 100% sure that you're not the one that been lied to...and lead me to the facts that what you are saying is the truth.
  38. GatorGirl
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    GatorGirl - February 25, 2014 6:03 pm
    We don't know where Maurice Bessinger is. We can't assume he is in hell. I don't know if he was really a Christian or not. If he wasn't; I hope he was when he passed. I didn't approve of some of the things he was doing; it seemed to me like he was racist. I had my reasons for not going in his place. I once was in there & looked at the books he had. I was appalled & didn't go back. May God bless his family & give them comfort & strength.
  39. oburgneedshelp
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    oburgneedshelp - February 25, 2014 3:33 pm
    So many people are afraid of the truth or do not know it to begin with. Maurice Bessinger stands on the truth and Christians are always fighting a battle with the false teachings of the past. Make no mistake..we are living with society that has no reason to believe the lies other than it is easier to think that the truth is a lie and continue to enslave the very people they are suppose to be standing up for. They will teach their very own children to be independent but yet teach others that they are the "suppressed" group that needs to be supported by them. They will never allow them to be independent because they do not want them to be. They will have no one to use to make themselves feel better. God created all men in his image. Why must some men be treated differently Why can they not be a part of the future with great understanding of what really happened and further understanding that the Confederate flag stands for God who is the creator of us all.
  40. medicmom72
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    medicmom72 - February 25, 2014 1:01 pm
    Not surprised that is hilarious!
  41. Not Surprised at all
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    Not Surprised at all - February 25, 2014 11:59 am
    How ironic that he died in February-Black History month! Jesus had the last laugh on this one Mr. Bessinger! May he NOT rest in peace!
  42. truthorjustice
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    truthorjustice - February 25, 2014 11:57 am
    Understand that the NAACP is already planning a demonstration at the Church and grave site. And, I wonder if the several anti-Bessinger posters here will attend?
  43. real_deal
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    real_deal - February 25, 2014 6:39 am
    @oburgneedshelp he did nothing for the state. its d-weeds like you that help keep his beliefs alive with your hatred....go join him and burn in west hell too
  44. medicmom72
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    medicmom72 - February 25, 2014 1:49 am
    He fought long and hard to keep the Confederate flag flying at all his restaurants. At his restaurants he also had what some ppl considered racist books/pamphlets. I never cared much for him or his food.
  45. nealyneals
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    nealyneals - February 24, 2014 11:18 pm
    What did he do so great for the just asking...I know nothing about him..all im hearing is negative things about I don't know. Im not from here.
  46. oburgneedshelp
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    oburgneedshelp - February 24, 2014 10:08 pm
    It's a sad day in South Carolina, rest in peace Mr. Bessinger. We appreciate everything you did for this state and South Carolinians. You will be missed. May your beliefs and rights live within all of us.
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