The original Maurice's Piggie Park in West Columbia. Photo by Jonathan Sharpe
Maurice Bessinger, who died Feb. 22 at 83, was a white supremacist and segregationist who believed slavery was good for black people and lobbied to keep the Confederate flag flying above the State House.
Bessinger’s vocal racism spanned more than half a century. Back in the 1950s and ’60s he banned black people from his barbecue restaurants (as did many white business owners in the South, to be sure). Civil rights attorney Matthew Perry took him to court in 1967, and Bessinger lost in an 8-0 ruling at the U.S. Supreme Court.
Time didn’t temper his racism as it did some other white Southerners. Decades later, in 2000, as legislators discussed pulling the Confederate flag off the State House dome, Bessinger took up the cause, replacing the U.S. flag with the Confederate one atop his restaurants. At the time, he was still distributing pamphlets in his restaurants espousing slavery.
The list drags on. Bessinger was once president of a group called the National Association for the Preservation of White People, according to John Monk, who wrote a clear-eyed account of Bessinger in The State this week. Another tidbit unearthed by Monk: In the 1960s, Bessinger tried to prevent Stevie Wonder from singing at the University of South Carolina, writing to the president of the university, “You may not agree with my feelings that jungle music is for jungle people, but the hatred and upheavals caused by recent forced race-mixing must concern us both.”
His obituary online at the Thompson Funeral Home website is drawing comments like this: “Maurice was a forthright supporter of our Southern heritage and the SCV [Sons of Confederate Veterans]. He spoke to our SCV camp during the height of his persecution by the politically correct media. He took a stand for right, sacrificially and unselfishly. Heaven is now richer with his presence.”
Of course, Bessinger was also a highly successful barbecue magnate. He opened his first drive-in barbecue restaurant in West Columbia in the mid-’50s, and from there grew an empire.
But clearly, the man overshadowed his barbecue. That’s why we’re talking about his politics this week instead of his pulled pork or his mustard-based sauce. And that’s why, despite having written about food for Free Times since 2008 and lived here since 2001, I’ve actually never been to Maurice’s Piggie Park.
Will I ever go? That depends on something Free Times contributor Shani Gilchrist addressed in an October story. Since 2010, Bessinger’s children and grandchildren have taken over running the restaurant. They’ve played up the barbecue, while ignoring the politics. They quietly removed most of the Confederate flags from Piggie Park; they told WLTX in 2010 it was due to “the high cost of dry cleaning.”
But as Gilchrist detailed, Bessinger’s clan hasn’t done anything to repudiate Piggie Park’s racist past. Bessinger granddaughter Carolyn Shvetz did tell Gilchrist some acknowledgment of the restaurant’s past was eventually coming.
In a statement released to news outlets this week, Bessinger’s family spoke mainly of Bessinger’s war service and of the ravages of Alzheimer’s on the man, writing, “Our family is very thankful for the memories and lessons he left us. We are grateful that he is done with the pain and sadness of this disease and is now in the presence of his Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.” All Piggie Park locations will be closed Thursday, they announced on the restaurant’s website.
Surely there’ve been other racist barbecue joint owners. And plenty of white Midlands business owners excluded blacks from their businesses during the 1960s. But Bessinger was uniquely vociferous in his hatred. What comes next should be interesting to see.
Music Break at Music Farm Columbia
Join COR for an evening of networking for music and business leaders on September 3rd, featuring performances by Josh Roberts and the Hinges, Death of Paris, Fat Rat Da Czar, and Lazy A and the Green Thang. Free admission for musicians and members! Register here.
Happy Hour and Sushi Specials All Week
Red Bowl in Lexington now has great early bird and late night sushi specials 7 days a week, as well as 99-cent kids meals on Saturdays! Click here for special information and hours.
Accepting Applications for Shakespeare’s Kidz!
Students ages 10-16 are invited to join South Carolina Shakespeare’s new youth company, with classes running September 20th-December 11th followed by a final performance. Learn and hone audition skills, monologues, and scenes from Shakespeare and modern works! Contact Katie Mixon with questions about scholarships and applications: PKatieMixon@gmail.com.
A two-day outdoor art and crafts show celebrating its 38th year. Being held on September 5 & 6, 2014, Click for details
Not Your Typical Greek Restaurant
Ariana’s in West Columbia serves up delicious all-natural, low carb dishes, as well as homemade bread and baklava. Come try the best salad dressing in town! Location info and hours here.
Delicious Downtown Breakfast
Tony’s is open for breakfast every day from 7:30-10:30! Conveniently located on Washington St. right off Main. Stop in for something filling and delicious before work! Follow us for updates on specials.
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U.S. Security Associates
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Pool Cleaning-Full and part time available. Must have a clean driving record, be organized and have a professional appearance. Starting Pay is $10.00 per hr, please call for an interview, please bring a copy of your Driving record and a list of all past employers with duration of employment listed as well as telephone numbers for references. Cal 803-865-1200
Company seeking carpenters, plumbers, masons work is year around with a 40 year old company. Starting pay is $10.00 but experienced individuals will be compensated accordingly. Must have a clean driving record and must bring a copy of your driving record to the interview. Please call 803-865-1200.
Real Estate Spotlight
Mungo Homes. Celebrating 60 years of our family building for your family. mungo.com