Maurice Bessinger was known for two things: a love of barbecue, and a belief in segregation. He is widely credited with cementing mustard-based barbecue sauce as an integral part of Carolina cuisine. He also went up against the Supreme Court 1968 in an attempt to keep segregation as the law of the land. Now he’s posthumously causing trouble for another restaurateur.
Tommy Daras bought what was once a location of Bessinger’s Piggy Park chain of barbecue restaurants and turned it into an ice cream shop. There’s just one problem—flying overhead is a confederate flag which Daras can’t remove because of the steps Bessinger took to ensure it would stay put. Back in 2000, South Carolina decided to remove the Confederate flag from its statehouse, and Bessinger responded by making sure the stars and bars flew over every single one of his restaurants, including the old Piggy Park location Daras now owns. Unfortunately for Daras, he doesn’t own the flagpole-sized plot, though, because Bessinger sold the flag pole and the land it’s sitting on to a Confederate veterans’ group, precisely so he could ensure it would never be taken down.
Even though it’s erected right near the sign for his shop and plenty of people think it’s his flag, Daras can’t do anything about what Bessinger called his “heritage flag.” Daras, a white man, runs the Edisto River Creamery in Orangeburg, a predominantly black town. You can see how confusion over the flag’s ownership could arise. After Dylann Roof massacred congregants at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, Daras says “All hell broke loose for me. My windows were broken out, my phone was ringing off the hook, my employees were harassed. I was fist-fighting with people in the parking lot. Everyone in town assumed [the flag] was my property because it looks like it’s attached to this building.”
So far there hasn’t been any progress in the fight over the flag, although Daras has tried to lawyering up and filing a zoning appeal. The Sons of Confederate Veterans Camp 842 refuses to take the flag down and insist there is “nothing sinister” about their belief the flag should stay put. Member Buzz Braxton said of Bessinger, “He loved his Confederate ancestors and his Confederate history just like we do.”
But in a town that is largely African American, the flag is an ugly reminder of the past, and of Bessinger’s segregationist beliefs. Before his death, Bessinger said the flags, “Will stay. I will fight on because this is what God wants me to do.” Considering the subject matter, that does sound sinister. However, Orangeburg residents will carry on their own fight, whether they know Daras is on their side or not. As one black Oraneburg resident told a reporter, “I never stop there and don’t plan to as long as that flag is still there.”