Slavery supporter, restaurant owner dies

Feb. 24, 2014 at 3:52 PM
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COLUMBIA, S.C., Feb. 24 (UPI) -- Maurice Bessinger, the South Carolina restaurateur who lost a landmark civil rights suit seeking to deny blacks service, has died, his family said. He was 83.

Bessinger, who owned a chain of barbecue restaurants in South Carolina that led to a successful retail barbecue sauce business, was infamous for his pro-slavery position, arguing slavery was a good thing for southern blacks.

He also advocated for South Carolina to again secede from the union and proudly flew Confederate flags above his eateries.

The (Columbia) State disclosed in 2000 Bessinger was distributing pro-slavery literature at his restaurants and offering customers who purchased the writing a discount on their food. Bessinger made no apologies, denying slave owners in the 1800s were cruel to their slaves.

In 1963, Bessinger rallied against a fellow restaurant owner who integrated his establishment and tried to have him thrown out as president of the South Carolina Restaurant Association.

A year later as Congress passed the landmark Civil Rights Act, he stood at the front door of his restaurant to prevent black people from entering to sit and eat. He filed suit, arguing the federal government did not have the authority to force him to serve customers if he did not want to.

In an 8-0 decision in 1968, the Supreme Court ruled against Bessinger, effectively ending racial segregation at the nation's lunch counters.

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