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Thursday, January 24, 2013

The South Carolina BBQ Feud: Family, Politics and Racism

In the Carolinas, BBQ is simply the most important food around.  BBQ sauce is distinctively divided by region.  In Western Carolina you can expect sweet tomato based sauce.  In Eastern Carolina you will get Vinegar based sauce.  My personal favorite is South Carolina BBQ Sauce.  South Carolina BBQ sauce is mustard based and has a unique color and flavor.

In South Carolina BBQ is controlled by one family:  The Bessingers.  The Bessingers are not a united front.  There is a divide that runs deep through history, politics and culture.

Meet Maurice Bessinger, the most eccentric of the Bessingers.  He has run BBQ restaurants around central SC for many many years.  Think of him as an evil Colonel Sanders.

In 2000, the NAACP threatened to boycott the state of SC over the fact that they were flying the confederate flag over its capital building.  The state comprised and moved its flag to another location on the grounds.

This move enraged Maurice.  Maurice began flying confederate flags over all of his restaurants and even had the flag emblazoned on the back of his BBQ sauce bottle.

Not my image
 His backlash against the NAACP caused a backlash by the NAACP.  A boycott of his sause was threatened and as a result Walmart refused to carry Maurice's sauce.  This followed was followed by virtually every grocery store not wanting to be part of the controversy and refusing to carry Maurice's sauce.  (The sole exception would be Southern grocery store chain Ingles).

When Maurice's sauce was pulled from grocery stores across the South it was quickly replaced by another brand of sauce, that was surprisingly similar.

This sauce was produced by Maurice's older brother Melvin Bessinger.  At first the NAACP threatened another boycott as they felt this was a ruse by Maurice to sneak his sauce back in stores.

Melvin would then publicly denounce his brother and declare that Maurice was a racist.  Melvin was adamant that he did not follow the racist believes of his brother and stated his brother was an embarrassment to the family name.  The NAACP officially endorsed Melvin's sauce.

Maurice was again outraged and published a biography where he declared that Melvin was sadistic and abusive towards him when he was a kid. Maurice also stated that Melvin cheated him out of the families restaurant business because his mother loved him more.

Before knowing of the political ramifications of Maurice's BBQ me and my wife stopped there on a trip back from Charleston.  It was actually really amazing food.  As we leaving I noticed the gift shop, I noticed something was a little "off" as the gift shop was full of neo-confederate literature as well as a shrine to Maurice.  Oddly enough, the staff was entirely African American as well as half of the customers.

Maurice may have lightened up a touch.  At some of his restaurants (where he came across opposition) he switched out the traditional confederate flag for a more obsolete less iconic version.

Melvin passed away last year, but his restaurant is still known as the best BBQ in Charleston.

Outside of Charleston their brother Thomas operates a BBQ buffet.  Thomas refuses to comment on the feud between his brothers.  There is also a 4th brother who operates a BBQ restaurant in NC.

I will leave up to all of you to decide where your BBQ sauce allegiance lies.

The Carpetbagger

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  1. As a Jewish Atheist, I fully support Maurice Bessinger's freedom to support his Southern Heritage. I actually traveled to Columbia SC and met with Maurice personally. He is a very tolerant gentleman with strong Christian beliefs how can I expect tolerance for my very unpopular viewpoints if I refuse to give respect for others with equally fervent but different positions. As a student of history, I am well aware of the vicious anti-Semitic attitudes of a number of Yankee generals and at the same time that the second most important leader of the C.S.A., Judah P Benjamin was Jewish. I also found Piggy Park to be the best BBQ place I have ever had the pleasure to enjoy.

    Hearing of that Hypocrite, Jesse (Jackal) Jackson calling for a boycott of Piggy Park, after once referring to Jews as "Hymies" is disgusting! Maurice, is a patriotic American who fought in the Korean War, Jesse

    Jackson, has amassed vast wealth as a professional parasite and extortionist! When I contacted Walmart about their boycott of Maurice's products, the secretary I spoke to at the time was well aware of the controversy, the big shot I was connected to gave me a load of BS. Several dozen of Maurice's employees lost their jobs as the result of the Walmart action, as Walmart continues to flood the USA with Chinese slave labor products.

    1. I am definitely for freedom of speech, but I do feel that Maurice is also responsible for the repercussions of his actions. Regardless of what he believes, he knows that his stance is controversial.

      I do agree with you that there is a fair amount of hypocracy in this country. Many of our founding fathers were slave owners and wrote in the consitution that slaves were 2/3rds of a person. Millions of Native Americans were displaced and murdered under the United States Flag. Yes, for some reason they people like to pretend that The South invented racism and human mistreatment. I will never ever ever defend slavery, but it is far from the only black mark on this country. We all have responsibility in the evil done in this country.

    2. Hey Hymie. We both have big noses and gold chains across our chests. BTW, isn't Hymen a common Jewish name and doesn't all Jews greet each other with Hymie like Black men greet each other with the n-word? I'm a Black combat veteran of OEF war, lived with a group of young combat veterans of the Israel defense forces in London, England and took an Israeli girl's virginity.

  2. Actually the South considered slaves 3/5 of a person to be counted in the Census. It was a compromise with the North. The Yankees didn't want them counted at all. They considered them non citizens. Look it up. People always use this to disparage the South when it was the North that didn't consider them persons for purposes of allocating Federal Funds and Representatives.

    1. I'm not arguing......This whole country has blood on its hands, but the South gets to be the whipping boy

  3. Allegro winds that is true but inaccurate. The north didn't want the black slaves counted because their vote wouldn't have been legit being that it was the slave holders doing the voting. As for Mr Bessinger, his BBQ is excellent but the man himself is a known monster. Being raised in Columbia, SC I am well aware of his locally history such as selling axe handles with nails "ni***r knockers" to assult protester during the civil rights movements. Every one is entitled to their own opinions and beliefs. But some are best left kept to yourself. I just glad that the south has progressed so far and continues to do so. Even if we still have a long way to go. And that goes for all races and creeds here.

    1. The man is definitely a relic and does not share views with educated southerners. I did notice when I went into the restaurant that the entire staff was black. I wonder if Maurice has changed at all over time.

  4. I didn't mean keep your opinions to yourself. I meant all hate motivated beliefs in general.

  5. Maurice's racism didn't start in 2000. Back when the Civil Rights Act was passed in 1964, Maurice attempted to claim that his restaurants were 100% sourced from SC businesses, and refused to serve people with out of state license plates, all in an attempt to say that he engaged in no interstate commerce and thus couldn't be forced to integrate his restaurants. It went to the Supreme Court-- Newman v. Piggie Park Enterprises.

    1. Wow, Thanks for the info, I was not aware of that. Again, who thought BBQ could be so political.

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