City woman who fought prejudice dies

January 02, 1991|By C. Fraser Smith

Ida Ginsberg, a businesswoman who helped break down racial barriers in Baltimore more than two decades before the civil rights movement of the Sixties, died yesterday at the Levindale nursing home after a long illness. She was 88.

Mrs. Ginsberg, a buyer for fine women's apparel stores in Baltimore, became the first person in Baltimore to employ blacks as managers and buyers when she opened her own shop in 1936.

Called Carver's, it was located in the 500 block of North Eutaw Street. In those days, black women were not permitted to try on clothing in most shops and none were employed as managers or buyers.

Mrs. Ginsberg, known as Ina Kaye or Kaye to friends and patrons of Carver's, lowered those barriers in her store.

"She was a fine lady," said former Baltimore Councilwoman Victorine Q. Adams.

"She reached out to everybody at a time when race relations weren't as good as they are now. She was way ahead of her time. She gave her customers individual service," Mrs. Adams said.

"Many of her employees branched out to work in other stores and into stores of their own," Mrs. Adams recalled.

Mrs. Ginsberg's decision did not become a movement, according to Mrs. Adams.

"I don't think the breakthrough came until the civil rights movement," she said.

But there were individual breakthroughs.

When Mrs. Adams and her husband, William L. Adams, opened a competing shop on Pennsylvania Ave., they hired two women trained by Mrs. Ginsberg. Two graduates of Carver's, Lottie Johnson and Wilhelmina Shipley went to work at the Adams establishment, The Charm Center.

"We had a very friendly relationship. There were exchanges of ideas and things like that. Mrs. Johnson and Kaye were very close friends," Mrs. Adams said.

Mrs. Ginsberg's daughter, Beatrice Mancuso, said her mother thought the racial barriers were "crazy".

"She said, 'I'm not going to insult people by hiring only white people,'" Mrs. Mancuso said.

The reaction from other Baltimore shopkeepers and customers, Mrs. Mancuso said, was not overly dramatic or negative.

"No one had anything to say," she said -- "just as my mother predicted. People accepted it as it stood. When change becomes a fact it becomes very natural."

Mrs. Ginsberg, who was born in Poland, asserted her views in other forums as well.

As a fund-raiser for the Progressive Party's 1948 presidential candidate, Henry Wallace, she planned a luncheon for his supporters at the Belvedere Hotel. She refused to accept the hotel's ruling that black guests could only attend if they used the service entrance.

" 'No guest is coming through the service entrance,' " she declared, according to her daughter.

Mrs. Ginsberg was able to enforce her views because she had a contract which did not exclude blacks. Her stand was a first step toward integrating a major Baltimore hotel, Mrs. Mancuso said.

Mrs. Ginsberg remained active in the apparel business until her eyesight began to fail at the age of 79.

Mrs. Ginsberg was educated in Baltimore schools until the eighth grade. She was an early member of the Altrua Guild and was active in the American Jewish Congress.

Her eldest brother, the late Rabbi Michael Forschlager, was a renowned Talmudic scholar, Mrs. Mancuso said.

She is survived by her daughter; a granddaughter, Paula Mancuso Rea; several great grandchildren; and a sister, Mrs. Jean Conn, all of Baltimore.

The funeral will be held at 11 a.m. tomorrow at the Levinson funeral home, 6010 Reisterstown Road.

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