Michael Margolis

Michael Margolis d. 2/10/1931

Family- Spouse: Celia; Children: Sam and Abraham

Margolis was from Dvinsk, Latvia. His father was a major rabbinic figure, but he had little interest in synagogue. He and Joseph Goldberg were known at the time as the two biggest "yiddishe goyim" in Durham. For a few years, he left the Durham Hebrew Congregation to be part of a break-away group that worshipped separately. Later, when his grandson had his bar mitzvah, Margolis was very involved in the preparation, and in reading from the Torah.

Margolis ran his own wholesale and retail grocery in the town's black community, Hayti, but struggled to compete with the larger chains that were just coming into Durham, such as A & P.

"Michael never had any luck," said his grandson, Howard. He came through Boston to Chicago, didn't do well in business and came to Durham in 1910 to be with his sister and other people from Dvinsk.

Like the other Jewish shopkeepers in the area, Margolis had a good relationship with the community. His son Sam remembered that he had many black playmates when he was a boy. The black-owned Mechanics and Farmers Bank was the only bank generally willing to extend credit to the Jews.

But relationships were not always rosy with the African American community. On one occasion, Margolis had an argument with a customer over the sale of some sliced meat. Margolis pulled a gun from under the counter and the two began wrestling. A large crowd gathered. Finally, a large black man stepped forward and separated them until the police arrived.

When Margolis was traveling in Virginia, he was stopped for a motor violation. He was called a Jew in court and according to his grandson, Howard, a famous Durham lawyer had to come to his assistance.

Margolis was interested in Israel and led the local chapter of the Zionist Organization of America.

He died at 48 due to complications from gall bladder surgery.