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South Carolina BBQ Restaurant Chain Refuses to Serve Blacks Claiming Religious Objection

Posted by Warm Southern Breeze on Friday, July 4, 2014

SC Restaurant Owner Refuses To Serve Blacks, Cites Religious Beliefs

July 2, 2014
By Manny Schewitz

In South Carolina, a BBQ restaurant owner (Maurice’s Piggy Park BBQ) claimed that he was within his rights to refuse service to blacks based on his religious beliefs. In the case brought before the Supreme Court, Maurice Bessinger stated that his religion required him to keep black people from eating in his restaurant, although he was perfectly OK with taking their money, so long as they ordered their food to-go.

The attorney representing the petitioners suing Piggie Park also addressed in court the “First Amendment religious privilege claim that petitioner asserted that his religion required him” to deny service to black customers.

“I’m just a fair man. I want to be known as a hard-working, Christian man that loves God and wants to further (God’s) work throughout the world as I have been doing throughout the last 25 years.” (Source)

And now for you who actually took the time to read the story instead of basing your outrage solely off a headline before sharing with an ALL CAPS blurb of “SEE? I TOLD YOU THE SOUTH WAS FULL OF RACISTS!!!”, this case was heard by the Supreme Court in 1968.

Piggie Park Enterprises

Piggie Park Enterprises

50 years ago, Mr. Bessinger used a similar argument as Hobby Lobby to say that despite laws outlawing segregation, his religious beliefs trumped federal law under the 1st Amendment. Maurice Bessinger also lost his appeal to the Supreme Court, in an unanimous decision of 8-0. Like Hobby Lobby, Maurice’s Piggie Park BBQ wanted to use the 1st Amendment in order to claim freedom of religion to impose the out of touch views of the owner on others. Not only content to discriminate against blacks at his own establishments, Maurice Bessinger also then used his influence against another restaurant owner who integrated his business. Oh yeah, and then he ran for office, lost and blamed intellectuals and liberals. Sound familiar?

In 1963, Bessinger became angry at a Spartanburg restaurant owner who had integrated his restaurant. Bessinger met with other restaurant owners to force the man to resign as president of the S.C. Restaurant Association — a group he later led as president.

In 1964, Bessinger ran for the S.C. House. He lost by about 100 votes and blamed his defeat on what he called the “Shandon Mafia” – an “exclusive elite section of Columbia” that had “large numbers of out-of-staters, college professors, government officials and other liberals,” according to his biography.

Even Mr. Bessinger’s own brother turned on him when the NAACP threatened a boycott after it was revealed that he was distributing pro-slavery literature in his restaurants, causing almost every grocery chain, including Wal-Mart, to yank his product from the shelves. Yet, he stood by his racism even though it cost him almost 98 percent of his business.

Maurice Bessinger died earlier this year and his children took over the restaurant chain in 2010 with no interest in using the business to engage in the angry, racial politics of their father. The Confederate pictures and the pro-slavery literature are now gone, and the Stars and Bars that used to fly over each Piggie Park location have been taken down as well.

Like Maurice Bessinger, Hobby Lobby represents another, less blatant generation of people who still want to shove their prejudices and ignorance down the throats of others behind the guise of “religious freedom.” Fortunately, just as Mr. Bessinger and his racism shuffled off this mortal coil and into the dustbin history, so will the owners of Hobby Lobby and their religious bigotry.

By the way, if you ever find yourself in the Columbia, SC area, do stop in and try some BBQ at Piggie Park, and let me know how it was. I passed on multiple opportunities to eat there in my many journeys throughout the South because of the blatant racism of their now deceased owner. According to my mother, it’s damn good stuff, even if it is South Carolina style, mustard-based sauce. I prefer East Carolina, vinegar-based sauce, just in case you were wondering.


About Manny Schewitz
Manny Schewitz is a Progressive from the Dirty South with an inclination to say it like it is. He is a co-founder of Forward Progressives, and also maintains a popular Facebook page, “Whiskey and the Morning After Blog.” You can also find him on Twitter @WATMAB. Be sure to check out Manny’s archives for more of his viewpoints.

The Time A Corporation Cited Religious Freedom As A Way To Avoid Desegregation

Submitted by Brian Tashman on Monday, 6/30/2014 3:55 pm

UPDATE: Rachel Maddow discussed the Piggie Park case on msnbc last night.

In her dissent in the Hobby Lobby case today, Justice Ginsburg mentioned a 1968 precedent in which the owner of a chain of barbecue restaurants in South Carolina “refused to serve black patrons based on his religious beliefs opposing racial integration.”

The Hobby Lobby majority emphasized that their ruling applied only to contraceptive coverage but would not undercut laws prohibiting racial discrimination. The conservative Justices said that the latter are “precisely tailored” to meet the government’s compelling interest in eradicating racial discrimination, while the Affordable Care Act provision falls in this case because it is not the least restrictive means to meet the government’s interest in providing women access to contraception.

At the time that that case, Newman v. Piggie Park Enterprises, was being decided, the majority of Americans had religious objections to interracial marriage and many preachers made the religious case for segregation. Efforts to defend the purported right of Christian schools to discriminate against African Americans greatly shaped the modern-day Religious Right.

In its 8-0 decision in Piggie Park, the Supreme Court upheld the Fourth Circuit Court’s ruling against the restaurant chain and found that it was not exempt from the Civil Rights Act of 1964 simply because its owner had religious objections to the law.

The Supreme Court threw out Piggie Park’s “patently frivolous” claims when determining that Piggie Park must pay the plaintiffs’ legal fees:

Indeed, this is not even a borderline case, for the respondents interposed defenses so patently frivolous that a denial of counsel fees to the petitioners would be manifestly inequitable. Thus, for example, the “fact that the defendants had discriminated both at [the] drive-ins and at [the sandwich shop] was . . . denied . . . [although] the defendants could not and did not undertake at the trial to support their denials. Includable in the same category are defendants’ contention, twice pleaded after the decision in Katzenbach v. McClung, 379 U. S. 294, . . . that the Act was unconstitutional on the very grounds foreclosed by McClung, and defendants’ contention that the Act was invalid because it ‘contravenes the will of God’ and constitutes an interference with the ‘free exercise of the Defendant’s religion.'” (emphasis added)

The attorney representing the petitioners suing Piggie Park also addressed in court the “First Amendment religious privilege claim that petitioner asserted that his religion required him” to deny service to black customers.

“I’m just a fair man. I want to be known as a hard-working, Christian man that loves God and wants to further (God’s) work throughout the world as I have been doing throughout the last 25 years,” the late Piggie Park owner, Maurice Bessinger, told South Carolina’s The State newspaper about the court case.

According to the paper, Bessinger continued to distribute “pro-slavery tracts at his Maurice’s Gourmet Barbecue headquarters in West Columbia – under the shadow of the enormous Confederate flag he flew outside.”

At the time, Bessinger was distributing pro-slavery audiotapes and gave customers a discount if they bought his literature. South Carolina had “biblical slavery,” Bessinger claimed, which was kinder and different than other forms of slavery. Bessinger established his Piggie Park Enterprises in Cayce in 1953. In the 1950s and 1960s, Bessinger put signs in his stores saying blacks weren’t welcome.

Also in 1964, Bessinger — who at that time owned four Piggie Park restaurants — stood in the door of one of his stores to prevent a black minister from entering. Bessinger would allow blacks to buy food to take out, but not to eat in his restaurant. African-Americans, represented by then-civil rights lawyer Matthew Perry, took him to court.

In 1968, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against Bessinger 8-0.

Ironically, that Supreme Court opinion — Newman vs. Piggie Park Enterprises — enshrined in law the concept that lawyers who win civil rights cases are entitled to have their attorneys’ fees paid by the loser. “If successful plaintiffs were routinely forced to bear their own attorney’s fees, few aggrieved parties would be in a position to advance the public interest by” going to court, the Supreme Court said, according to the book “Matthew J. Perry” by Lewis Burke and Belinda Gergel.


2 Responses to “South Carolina BBQ Restaurant Chain Refuses to Serve Blacks Claiming Religious Objection”

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    South Carolina BBQ Restaurant Chain Refuses to Serve Blacks Claiming Religious Objection « Warm Southern Breeze


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