The Bessinger brouhaha

By Staff Reports
Updated 04/30/08

Maurice Bessinger is selling more than barbecue at his restaurants around the state. He is selling his philosophy, many parts of which we find reprehensible.

Bessinger’s decision to open a barbecue restaurant at Rock Hill’s Galleria has set off a small tempest with many people weighing in on whether locals should frequent his eatery.

The publicity might upset Bessinger. Or, who knows, he might relish it. Ultimately, it might do as much to attract customers as repel them.

Either way, it’s a free country. Bessinger and his admirers are free to express themselves and buy his barbecue. And his detractors are free to criticize him and give his restaurant a wide berth.

But it would not be accurate to label Bessinger a victim in this dispute. For many years he has courted this controversy, and he has little right to complain when people express an opposing point of view.

In 2000, when the Confederate battle flag was lowered from the Statehouse in Columbia, Bessinger lowered the American flag at his nine restaurants around the city and replaced them with the battle flag. His restaurants also have carried various conservative religious tracts, with titles such as "The South Was Right," and "The Biblical View of Slavery."

The latter suggested that Africans forcefully transported to the United States liked slavery. An excerpt reads: "Many of those African slaves blessed the Lord for allowing them to be enslaved and sent to America. Because what they had over here was far better than what they had over there."

At best, this view is historically naive. At worst, it is willfully oblivious to the many trials African-Americans have endured for centuries — and in some respects still endure — as a direct result of slavery.

Objections to these materials eight years ago were serious enough for several grocery chains to refuse to continue carrying Bessinger’s bottled barbecue sauce on their shelves.

Some may share Bessinger’s philosophy. Others may choose to ignore it because they like his barbecue. Others will refuse, as a matter of principle, to darken the door of his restaurant.

As noted, it’s a free country. Consumers, as they often do, will vote with their pocketbooks.

But let there be no mistake: Bessinger is the one who started this fracas.


It’s a free country, and residents can feel free to patronize restaurant — or not.


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