Restaurants fly first flag of Confederacy

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COLUMBIA - Outspoken barbecue baron Maurice Bessinger - known as much for his support of the Confederate flag as his food - is providing some variety for his customers, but this change has nothing to do with his mustard-based sauce.

At about half of his dozen restaurants, Mr. Bessinger has replaced the better-known Confederate flag with its red background, blue cross and white stars with the less recognized and perhaps less controversial first flag of the Confederacy - a banner with two red stripes, a white stripe and a blue square with a circle of white stars.

The new flag, which resembles the U.S. flag, better honors his ancestors who fought for the South in the Civil War, Mr. Bessinger said.

Anyone who thinks the change in banners shows that the self-proclaimed "Barbecue King" has softened his views on the flag or race - Mr. Bessinger refused to serve blacks at his restaurant until 1976, when the U.S. Supreme Court stepped in - better think again.

"I'm not backing down from nothing. I'm still flying the Confederate flag," Mr. Bessinger said.

"I've come to realize that I should fly the flag of my ancestors, which is the first national flag. That was the soldiers' flag," he said.

A state NAACP leader suggests Mr. Bessinger has changed flags because he is losing customers.

A Confederate group said it is just as likely people's opinions of Mr. Bessinger were set back in 2000, when he first raised the more famous Confederate battle flag over his restaurants to protest the state Legislature's decision to take that flag down from atop the Statehouse dome.

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