The nice thing here is there's no wrong answer. Barbeque is almost always awesome.
A little something for those who like even the most innocent threads to be controversial:Some big grocery- and chain-stores have stopped selling Maurice Bessinger's barbecue dinners and sauce because of what is seen as his racist views
South Carolina restaurateur complains his free speech has been violated Some big grocery- and chain-stores have stopped selling Maurice Bessinger's barbecue dinners and sauce because of what is seen as his racist views
September 27, 2000
Web posted at: 1:32 p.m. EDT (1732 GMT)
WEST COLUMBIA, South Carolina (CNN) -- Maurice Bessinger, whose South Carolina barbecue restaurants have been a hit with customers and food critics for years, also makes a barbecue sauce that's popular throughout the South. But you can't buy his products anymore at several other large chains that now say they see troubling racist aspects to Bessinger's in-your-face politics.
"My constitutional rights have been violated," he complains.
Drive along Charleston Highway in West Columbia and it's hard to miss the original Piggie Park restaurant, the headquarters of Maurice's Gourmet Barbeque, which opened for business in 1953.
True to Maurice Bessinger's rebel ways, visitors to his Web site are greeted with a waving Confederate flag and the sounds of "Dixie," an instrumental version of the marching song of Confederate troops during the Civil War. Critics view the anthem of the Old South as an expression of fondness for the days of slavery.
At Maurice Bessinger's original Piggie Park barbecue restaurant in West Columbia, South Carolina, he sells a tract called "The Biblical View of Slavery," which suggests Africans brought by force 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."
Bessinger has run out of that particular tract right now, but when he gets more, he says he'll put them on display again.State of race relations
Outside, along with an enormous sign proclaiming Maurice's has the "world best barbeque," there's a big Confederate flag, biblical quotes and a sign proclaiming Buchanan for President.
Go inside and you'll find conservative political and religious tracts, including one claiming blacks were blessed to have been brought to America in slavery.'Exercising my beliefs in Christ'
Bessinger insists he's not a racist but offers no apologies. "This is part of my exercising my beliefs in Christ and putting out the word," he told CNN.
Nevertheless, the Wal-Mart discount stores and the supermarket chains Kroger, Publix, Food Lion, Bi-Lo and Harris Teeter all have removed his products from their shelves.
Food Lion decided "it was best for us." Bi-Lo, which calls Bessinger's business activities unacceptable, said "removing his products from Bi-Lo stores will reinforce our belief in the dignity of each individual who shops with us."
Bessinger says he has offered hundreds of religious tracts and writings by different ministers at his stores for decades.
His troubles began after he lowered the U.S. flag in front of his restaurants and replaced it with the Confederate banner last month -- in what he said was a protest against federal power. Then came the pro-slavery complaints.
Stores pulling his products "have falsely accused me on this slavery bit,'' says Bessinger, who estimates grocery store sales of his sauce and frozen dinners account for about 40 percent of his business.
"It's just political correctness that's sweeping the country and now trying to sweep the South. You've got to be in line with the mindset of the big corporations to do business," he says. "This is nothing more than an attempt to dictate the religious beliefs and suppress freedom of expression of all of their American suppliers."'We have had some complaints'
This week, Bessinger won a victory when Piggly Wiggly supermarkets decided to keep his mustard-based barbecue sauce on its grocery store shelves. "Our focus is to provide our customers with the products they want. We're in the grocery business," Piggly Wiggly spokeswoman Rita Postell said.
"Praise the Lord," Bessinger responded. "I'm glad to see at least one South Carolina chain that still believes in American fair play and my constitutional rights to freedom of speech and freedom of religion," Bessinger said.
Postell said Piggly Wiggly will continue to monitor the situation. "We have had some complaints and then we've also got an awful lot of calls that want us to keep providing the product that we've had in our stores for a number of years," she said.
For now, says Bessinger, the controversy doesn't seem to have hurt business at the eight Maurice's Gourmet Barbeque locations, all of them in the Columbia, South Carolina, area.
And customers, it seems, are on his side. "I think the stores that are pulling his products are all wrong and I won't support them anymore," one woman told CNN.
She agrees with Bessinger who says there's nothing wrong with practicing free speech while serving up delicious barbecue.Correspondent Brian Cabell, The Associated Press and CNN.com Senior Writer Jim Morris contributed to this report.