Born two years before Debs' death, Ginger grew up in Debs' home state of Indiana, in the "Valley of Democracy", as it was called, and early became interested in Debs. During World War II, he served with military intelligence, where he was tasked with learning Japanese.
While working on his Master's degree at the University of Michigan, Ginger wrote The Bending Cross (1949), an acclaimed biography of Debs. Of this book, the noted American historian, Henry Steele Commager said, "Mr. Ginger's book is by no means the first, but it is the best biography of Debs." The book has been reprinted several times, most recently in 1992.
After earning his Ph.D. in American Culture at Case Western Reserve University in 1951, Ginger took up a post the following year at Harvard University, where he edited the Business History Review from 1953 to 1954.
During his second year there, on June 16, 1954, in the midst of the McCarthy period, Ginger was called upon by university officials, in the presence of FBI agents, to sign an oath that he was not a member of the Communist Party, and that his wife, who was not connected with Harvard, sign a similar oath. The university gave him an ultimatum: either sign or Harvard would break the signed, three-year contract beginning July 1, 1954 and the one-year contract ending August 31. He chose to resign. In addition, Harvard threatened to withhold the balance of his salary on his one-year contract unless he left the state immediately.
Now unemployed, with a small child and a nine-month's pregnant wife, Ginger took the family on two-day's notice to New York to stay with relatives they had never met. His wife gave birth as a charity patient. During the following difficult years, Ginger got divorced, remarried twice, and was able to land temporary appointments at Brandeis University and Wayne State University, before finally getting a tenured position at the University of Calgary, in Alberta, Canada.
Many of the archived documents from that troubled time are just now (2003) nearing the end of a fifty-year embargo. Preliminary evidence suggests that Harvard has been less than forthcoming in discussing the events of that period. In 2000, Ann Fagan Ginger wrote a letter to the president of Harvard, requesting a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to discuss the Ginger firing and other acts of Harvard against students and faculty members who had Left political leanings or membership. The Harvard Crimson has published a number of articles on this issue. Francis A. Boyle, law professor at the University of Illinois, and a 1976 graduate of Harvard Law School, has led a national campaign to lobby Harvard to conduct a public inquiry, issue a meaningful apology, and endow a chair in the Gingers' name for the study of peace, justice, and human rights.
In April of 2000, the president of Brandeis University, Jehuda Reinharz, announced that a university alumnus, William Friedman ('65), had given Brandeis $2.5 million to endow a Ray Ginger Professorship of History.
Ginger's first wife is nationally-known civil-liberties lawyer, Ann Fagan Ginger. They had two children, one of whom practiced civil rights law in Mississippi, Arkansas, and Michigan.
List of books