My Grandfather’s Vision of Equality

Now that Martin Luther King’s Day has come  I wanted to share an excerpt of the book I am now writing, “A Lifetime of Luxury Revealed:What You Need to Know Before You Buy a Luxury Good or Service”  because I am reminded of my grandfather, James Mano Swartz and his brave actions.
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“My grandfather’s actions prove that a company is more than the law’s strict definition of personhood.

His decision, despite the small number of black customers who could afford to buy a fur coat from Mano Swartz Furs, was not then – and it is not now – a symbolic gesture because I remember the phone calls at the office and at our home, at all hours of the day and night, from cowards promising to attack or kill that “dirty Jew,” my grandfather, for his love of a  “mongrel race.”

I remember the worry among my family and our extended family of workers and friends that the company would close, that there would not be enough customers – that there would not be fifty righteous people, or forty-five or forty or thirty or twenty, not even ten – to defend an issue as old as the Scriptures and as clear as the American Constitution.

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Today, the calls come from consumers of all races and religions, and of all interests and places. There are African-American buyers, including athletes and entertainers, as well as one who is so rich and famous, and so successful (in TV and film, behind or in front of a microphone) that her last name is excessive; she just is . . . Oprah! Oprah bought furs from my father, Mano in the 1970 when our store was in Towson, Maryland and she worked at WJZ-TV.

The calls come from designers and patrons around the world, and the calls come from residents throughout the city and suburbs of my beloved Baltimore.

By answering their calls, I answer the call – and I defend the honor – of the great men and women, some of them known only to my great-grandfather, whose letters for help, with their coded messages (to confound the Nazis), contain pleas for assistance and warnings about Europe’s descent into madness at the hands of Hitler and Stalin.

Those cards, with their mixture of concessions to Europe’s hierarchy between dukes and duchesses, between the royal few and the impoverished many, between the alliances of convenience and the inevitable wars between fascists and communists, with my Jewish ancestors and millions of their coreligionists in flight from the butchers in Berlin and the murderers in Moscow, my great-grandfather’s words resonate still.

I like to think that my great-grandfather – reading those letters, as an American citizen, on American soil; and recalling his final visit to Europe, as a witness to (and within earshot of) the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand – I believe I know how his conscience would respond to any plea for justice and compassion.

Indeed, I know how the conscience of his company, which is my company, would react to injustice somewhere by preventing its spread everywhere.”

For a complete history go to Mano Swartz Furs History.