Maurice Bessinger, founder of Maurice’s Gourmet Barbeque and Piggie Park Enterprises, is dead at 83. In a 2000 interview with The State newspaper Bessinger said, “I’m just a fair man. I want to be known as a hard-working, Christian man that loves God and wants to further (God’s) work throughout the world as I have been doing throughout the last 25 years.”
In stark contrast, The State broke the news of Bessinger’s death with the glaring headline “Barbecue eatery owner, segregationist Maurice Bessinger dies at 83”. Bessinger, a Korean War veteran, was as infamous around Columbia for his belief in a racial divide as he was known for his barbeque sauce and restaurants.
When The State ran a story exposing the fact that he was giving discounts to customers who agreed to take pro-slavery pamphlets being handed out in his restaurants, many blacks and whites began boycotting his restaurants and products. This, in addition to his refusal to take down the huge Confederate flags flying over his restaurants, led Wal-Mart and many other stores to snatch his barbeque sauce from their shelves.
Bessinger allowed blacks to pick up takeout orders, but refused to have them dine in his restaurants. He defended his stance by saying that “South Carolina had biblical slavery”, not the harsh kind. This stirred up so much agitation that South Carolina electrical power giant SCANA ordered its employees not to patronize any of Bessinger’s establishments.
Bessinger’s restaurants and barbeque sauce business are now being run by his children. His son, Lloyd Bessinger, said that his father had battled Alzheimer’s disease the past seven years and had not been active in the business. Several months ago Bessinger’s children removed the last of the Confederate flags from the restaurant in West Columbia, SC.
According to The State, funeral services for Bessinger will be held at 2 p.m. Thursday at First Baptist Church in West Columbia.