Football and Flags and the "The Lost Cause"

Columbia, SC -- Not since 1928 have the University of South Carolina and Clemson University football teams gone 4-0 the same year. The dramatic turnaround from big losers to big winners for South Carolina's two major universities saw South Carolina end a 21 game losing streak in their season's opener and Clemson improve from a 3-9 record in 1998. Unlike the all-white teams of 1928, African-Americans now comprise a vast majority of their rosters, and South Carolina and Clemson head coaches Lou Holtz and Tommy Bowden have been working hard on team motivation. They have also voiced concerns about the number of outstanding black players from South Carolina high schools choosing to play at out-of-state universities.

Seeds for such prodigious pigskin success were sown last April when South Carolina and Clemson head coaches Lou Holtz and Tommy Bowden took a step for racial justice by joining the "Get-In-Step" march from Charleston to Columbia The purpose of the march was to call for the removal of the Confederate flag, the ultimate symbol of " The Lost Cause," from the statehouse dome and the coaches' powerful statement of empathy for African-Americans' history was clear. Their black players understand the flag as a continuing symbol of racist oppression.

A controversial Legislative "compromise" was reached this session to remove the Confederate flag from the dome and the Legislative Chambers and place it in front of the statehouse behind the Confederate Soldiers' monument. To protest the removal and the small step of progress for those who feel the flag is a symbol of racism, barbecue baron Maurice Bessinger decided to "further the cause of states rights, freedom of speech and Christianity" by removing his gigantic U. S. flag at his West Columbia headquarters and replacing it with a Confederate and South Carolina state flag. Bessinger ordered the removal of Ol' Glory from his 8 Columbia area restaurants and replaced it with the Rebel and State flags.

Reporters covering the story discovered that besides the barbecue Bessinger sells tracts by ministers like "The Biblical View of Slavery." One 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 the had over there." Besides his drive-in and drive-thru business, Bessinger delivers his barbecued pigs and chickens by air freight all over the country and sells his famous Maurice's mustard based BBQ sauce at major grocery chains.

Citing respect for the diversity of their customers and concern over the racist literature Bessinger sells, seven grocery companies, including Bi-Lo, Harris-Teeter, Food Lion, Kroger, Publix, Walmart Superstores, and Sam's Club have announced the removal of Bessinger's barbecue sauce from their shelves. Last Friday Bessinger said he could lose 40% of his business because of the sauce removal.

While grocery corporations and even nice Southern white folks who fight to keep the Confederate flag flying on the statehouse grounds voice shock at Bessinger's extremism and "Christian view" of slavery, Bessinger represents the mainstream historical justification for slavery and continuing racism in the South. Confederate President Jefferson Davis said, "We recognize the negro--as God and God's Book and God's Laws, in nature, tell us to recognize him-our inferior, fitted expressly for servitude...You cannot transform the negro into one-tenth as useful or as good as what slavery enables them to be."

In 1876, Wade Hampton, former Confederate General, South Carolina Governor and then leader of the Red Shirts, told his quasi-terrorist group, "Treat them(blacks) so as to show them you are the superior race, and that their natural position is that of subordination to the white man." South Carolina State Senator John D. Long promised in 1944, "As for the Negro God, we'll fight him at the polls if I have to bite the dust as did my ancestors."

In my 64 years of living in Alabama, Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina I've often heard that black folks are better off from being brought here as slaves. But, finally even barbecue barons are learning that the Confederacy and the racism it epitomizes is a "Lost Cause."

The winning gridiron heroics of Clemson and South Carolina, led by African-American stars like Woody Dantzler and Derek Watson, have taken some of the media attention away from the losing baron of barbecue. At least for now, Gamecock and Tiger flags are flying on some of the pickups and cars where rebel flags once flew.

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