Ackerman Shoe Store


Walhalla, SC

FAMILIES: Ackerman; Burgen

Around 1944, husband and wife George (1914-1999) and Sarah Burgen Ackerman (born 1921) moved from Memphis, Tennessee to Walhalla, South Carolina to work for Sarah’s brother and start their own business. Owners and operators of their own shoe store by 1950, George and Sarah would ultimately close that business upon their move to Fort Mill, SC in 1952.


The daughter of Polish immigrants Avram Grinberg and Pesel Steinberg Grinberg, Sarah was born in Alabama, growing up in Birmingham as well as the small town of Eufala on the Georgia border. Avram emigrated from Europe in 1914 with the intention of earning enough money to bring Pesel over. Trained as a carpenter in the Old World, Avram secured a job in construction in New York City. Seeking a better opportunity, he moved south to Birmingham, Alabama, where two of Pesel’s brothers lived comfortably. Despite their success, Avram’s brothers-in-law were unwilling to loan him money to start a business. Realizing there was nothing for him in Birmingham at the time, Avram moved to Opp, Alabama, where he began to learn English and trained as a shoe repairman with a local merchant. Starting his own shoe repair and sales business on the side, Avram was able to save $50,000 by 1919. Despite this large sum of money, the devastation of World War I and the Spanish Flu made communication to Pesel impossible until 1920, when Avram was at last was able to send her money and arrange for her immigration to the United States. Within a year of Pesel’s arrival in Alabama, she was pregnant with Sarah. As a child, Sarah witnessed the struggles her parents faced as immigrants, but also the determination and hard work that ultimately led them to financial success. Around fifteen years of age, Sarah met George, who she would marry at age eighteen.


The child of Lithuanian immigrants, George was born in Winnipeg, Canada. Orphaned as a young boy, he and his brothers were raised in a Jewish Orphanage, where they received a Hebrew education. As a teenager, George was offered a scholarship to study at the Yeshiva in Chicago. He graduated from high school there and attended college for two years before taking a job as a rabbi’s assistant in Birmingham. After their marriage, George and Sarah lived in Alabama for a few years before moving to Memphis. Before they moved to Walhalla, the couple and their children relied on George’s salary as a rabbi. In an oral history recorded in 1999, Sarah described Walhalla as unwelcoming to Jews, and stated that Fort Mill was “much more open” and accepting.1



1 Sarah Burgen Ackerman, “Interview with Sarah Burgen Ackerman.” Interview by Dale Rosengarten. Jewish Heritage Collection, College of Charleston Libraries, September 22, 1999. Audio, 1:07:07,

Main Image:  George and Sarah Ackerman, undated. Image from

The Jewish Merchant Project is supported by the generosity of the Henry & Sylvia Yaschik Foundation and the Stanley B. Farbstein Endowment at the Coastal Community Foundation.

JHSSC Office
Sylvia Vlosky Yaschik Jewish Studies Center
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Charleston, SC 29424
Phone: 843 953 3918