To South Carolinians who care about barbecue, the controversial history of Maurice Bessinger (1930-2014) and his ‘cue empire are no secret. The man behind West Columbia’s Piggie Parks was also a vocal white supremacist who hoisted the Confederate flag above his businesses and fought against desegregation.
Today that history gets a closer inspection courtesy of The New Yorker. Picking up where Charlotte Observer food editor Kathleen Purvis left off in her December 2016 feature “Can a S.C. barbecue family rise above their father’s history of racism?,” the magazine investigates the reaction to Bessinger’s restaurants following his 2014 death.
In 2007, Bessinger’s son Lloyd became the face of the business and has worked to distance the brand from his father’s past. As he told The New Yorker, “Dad liked politics. That’s not something we’re interested in doing. We want to serve great barbecue.”
But can a son escape the sins of his father? With the flag down and the racist political pamphlets gone, can we eat at Piggie Park now?
Writer Lauren Collins explains that this predicament is precisely why “barbecue might be America’s most political food.”
“One of the reasons I’d become interested in the Bessinger story is that it struck me as a small, imperfect test case for how to act in our political moment. Of the many moral issues that have beset Americans since November, one of the most nagging is that of the once beloved relative who appears at the Thanksgiving table spouting contemptible ideas. When something or someone you love troubles your conscience—when your everyday relationships are political acts—do you try to be a moderating force, or are you obligated to make a break entirely?”
Answer that question for yourself by reading her full story.
And don’t forget to note that both CP contributor and barbecue historian Robert Moss and former CP editor Chris Haire are quoted in the piece, although in a classic case of poetic injustice, Haire’s killer line from his quasi Bessigner obit, “Satan and his minions would slather his body in mustard-based BBQ sauce before they dined” did not get a formal credit.
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