Sunday, November 17, 2013

A Brief look at Anti-Hellenism in the United States, Part I

The story of Anti-Hellenism in the United States is one that is heavily intertwined with the country’s history of Nativism and Nordic Supremacy. It is a tale which begins in the early 20th century as an influx of immigrants began to come to the country from Southern and Eastern Europe. This increase in new immigrants led to some within America’s elite, specifically lawyers and academics, to begin expounding theories of scientific racism, which eventually resulted in the rise of Nativist organizations and the birth of an American Eugenics movement [1].

Funded by various corporate foundations, such as the Carnegie Institution and the Rockefeller Foundation [2], American Eugenists would help to found organizations such as the Immigration Restriction League [1]. These Nativist organizations would work to preventinferior races” from entering the United State andpollutingthe American gene pool. According to them, Greeks and other Southeastern Europeans were racially inferior, and a threat to the Anglo-Saxon purity of White America [1]. In many ways, it was directly due to Southern and Eastern European immigrants that the United States began passing anti-immigration laws, such as the Immigration Act of 1924 [3], and created a hierarchy of nationalities [4].

What is Nordicism and how is it relevant to Anti-Hellenism 

For Greek-Americans, Nordicism presents itself as one of many racist philosophies whose ideological core emanates Anti-Hellenism. Many of the first manifestations of anti-Greek behavior in the United States can be seen as a direct result of the popularity and influence of Nordicism in American society. “Nordicism”, says Professor Anthony Gregor, “involves the belief that men of the ‘Nordic Race’ – tall, slender, fair-skinned, blond, blue-eyed, narrow-faced, narrow-nosed, long-headed individuals- are qualitatively superior to the remainder of mankind. They are the creators of civilization, and their passing marks the passing of civilization[5]. Nordicism, commonly identified in the United States as merely “White Supremacy”, is actually the racial theory that the “Nordic Race” alone constitutes a master race [6]; and thereby, is superior from all other races, as well as other subgroups within the greater Caucasiod or “White Race”. Therefore, “Nordids” are seen as “pureand true contenders to the phrase “White”.

In the United States, the primary proponent of Nordicism in early 20th century was eugenicist Madison Grant. Author of the popular book, The Passing of the Great race [7], Grant supported a version of Nordicism, which fit within the many different racial philosophies of his time. Like others he divided humanity into three distinct races: Caucasiods, Negroids, and Mongoloids, and further divide Caucasiods into Nordics, Alpines, and Mediterraneans. In his theory, Alpines were the most inferior of the three Caucasiod subraces while Nordics were the superior. The main difference between his version of Nordicism and other types popular in Europe was his rejection of the “Nordic Migration Theory”, as an explanation for Greco-Roman Civilization. Instead, he supported an equally ridiculous claim that Greco-Roman Civilization was the result of the indigenous element mixing with a Nordic one and founding their civilization on Nordic ideas.

The Greek American experience with Nordicism and Anglo-Conformity

"White," which nowadays includes anyone of European origin, was then reserved for people of Anglo-Saxon and Nordic stock. Greeks were considered to be of mixed race, mongrels genetically inferior to their allegedly pure ancestors of ancient times and, therefore, incapable of ever approaching their accomplishments. Inasmuch as these writers saw the Greeks as inferior and not white, and despised them for this, their behavior was clearly racist. -- E.D. Karampetsos. Nativism in Nevada: Greek Immigrants in White Pine County

An Essential chapter in the story of racial bigotry in American society, the Greek-American experience, is often left out. The days of being deemed the ‘scum of Europe’ and ‘unfit for citizenship’ [8] or simply called ‘filthy’ [9] are all but forgotten. Somehow the Greek-American psyche has blocked out any memory of its experience with racial discrimination and instead has created an illusionary memory of a painless immigration experience. However, the truth is that Greeks were never welcomed with open arms by Anglo-Saxon establishment. In the early days, Greek immigrants were constantly harassed by organizations, such as the Ku Klux Klan because they were viewed as ‘mongrelized members of a once great Nordic nation[10].

For many Greek immigrants, direct and indirect policies of Anglo-Conformism would make them twice victimized. Newly immigrated Greeks often surrendered their identity and integrity due to pressure to conform to the Anglo-dominated notions of “American” and “White”. Thus, a process was born of becoming more “Anglo” than the Anglo-Americans, in order to survive and succeed in American Society. As a result, some Greeks Anglicized their names while others refrained from speaking Greek or teaching it to their children. Many willing committed a form of ethnic suicide, sacrificing their ethnic heritage in order to be reborn as Anglicized Americans for social and economic security [10] [11].

Violence and Persecution in the 1900s

The first documented acts of anti-Greek behavior would be witnessed in 1907 in the form of violent riots, which befell the Greek community of Roanoke, Virginia [10], and the 1909 passing of anti-Greek legislation, which was directly aimed at the Greek community living in Newport, Rhode Island [21]. These two events, however, were just a taste of things to come. Throughout the early 20th century, Greek-Americans would suffer racial discrimination and economic intimidation at the hands of Nativist groups across the country.
The extent of intolerance that early Greek immigrants were forced to endure can be summed up by two anti-Greek riots, the first in Nevada 1908 and the second in Nebraska 1909. Although neither riot was the first of its kind in the United States, both are well documented and perfect examples of the racist nature of these attacks towards the Greek community.

The first incident took place in the Census-designated Place (CDP) of McGill, located in White Pine County, Nevada. The match, which ignited the violence, was the shooting of Constable Sam Davis by Antonis Vasilopoulos. Nativist reports claim that Constable Davis, a known anti-Greek, was in McGill searching for stolen lumber when the incident occurred. While local Greek reports, claim the Constable had come to harass the Greeks for building a stable.

An ensuing argument resulted, in which the Constable pulled his gun and shot at Antonis. In court, Davis claimed that he came upon Vasilopoulos sawing lumber and “recognized” it to be the stolen lumber in question. While questioning Vasilopoulos, the defendant pulled a gun and shot the constable unprovoked. However, Vasilopoulos testified that it was the Constable that fired first, wounding a horse, thus forcing him to shoot back in self-defense.

As a result of the encounter, Davis fled the scene. What happen next was reported at the time by the Tonopah Sun as, “A serious time bordering on riots has been the experience of Ely for several days with the Greek population of the district” [10]. Davis eventually rounded up a posse and pursued Vasilopoulos. At least one man, Dimitris Kalampokas, was murdered during the witch-hunt. Reports claim Yardmaster James A. Smith and group of men hunted down Kalampokas who was hiding from the mob. When found, he was commanded to surrender. Kalampokas refused and was shot several times. Vasilopoulos and several witnesses eventually would be arrested.
Local media kept tensions high, with claims of a “Greek Revolt” while rumors of a Greek “Black Hand” society spread. Tensions grew so much that, on January 22, 1908, the local paper reported: “Loaded into two box cars, herded together by armed guards, nearly a hundred Greeks passed last night in Ely waiting to be transported to some other points, most probably to Cobre. This will be done it states, this morning” [10]. The undesirable Greeks were rounded up and asked to pay for their own expulsion. The Nevada Northern Railway refused to haul them for free, and finally those rounded up were released. Many left, of their own will the next day, no longer feeling safe in White Pine County.

The second and perhaps even worse act of anti-Greek violence to befall the Greek American Community would be the Greek Town Riot of South Omaha on February 21, 1909. The New York Times reported on the violence, stating the entire Greek neighborhood was burned down while the Greek population of the town was expelled [13]. The entire ordeal began two days earlier on the 19th when John Masourides [14] was arrested by Edward Lowery, without provocation while taking English lessons from a local woman. The story goes that during transport to the local jailhouse; Masourides pulled out a gun and killed officer Lowery [15].

Two days after the shooting, two state legislators and a local attorney called for a mass town meeting. During which organizers went on racist and anti-Greek tirades, exploiting tensions and raising emotions against Greeks [13]. The mob eventually grew and marched on the South Omaha Jail, forcing police to transport the prisoner to the main Omaha jail. Unable to lynch Masourides, the mob turned on Greek Town itself.
The mob of 3,000 [13] descended upon the ethnic enclave looting homes and businesses. Men, women, and even children were beaten while the entire enclave was burned to the ground. In the end, five people suffered gunshot wounds; eleven were severely beaten [16], and one young Greek boy was killed [17]. Within a few days, the local Greek community fled to places such as Council Bluffs, Sioux City, and Salt Lake City [18]. To make matters worse, a year later, local police took revenge against those remaining Greeks by lynching a young man named Nicholas Jimikas [14].

Anti-Greek Sentiment continues in the 1910s & 20s

The wave of anti-Greek discrimination across the United States would continue into the next several decades, with incident such as Gray’s Harbor, Washington in 1912 where Greek lumber workers were expelled from the area or the city ordinance of Pocatella, Idaho, which enforced segregated seating on Greeks in theaters and certain neighborhoods [12]. In places like Utah, at the end of the First World War, groups such as the American Legion would harass immigrant communities, especially the Greeks [19].

In the 1920s, the revival of the Ku Klux Klan would mean attacks on Greeks across the country. In Utah, Greeks would witness intense prejudice, such as one Magna Greek resident who had married an American woman, in response the Klan burned a cross in front of his store and his wife’s family home[19]. In Florida, the story of Chris Lochas demonstrates a typical strategy of the Klans towards Greeks. On July 8, 1921, three cars full of Klansmen drove out to Lochas’ restaurant. Three men entered his establishment and handed Lochas a letter, which read, “You are an undesirable citizen. You violate the Federal prohibition laws, the laws of decency, and you are a running sore on society. Several trains are leaving Pensacola daily. Take your choice, but don’t take too much time” [20].

Intimidations by the Klan in the form of boycotts and cross burnings were common place towards Greeks. In response to these growing racist attacks, organizations like the American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association were born.

Anti-Hellenism’s role in the 1920s anti-Immigration Laws

In 1907, a bipartisan special committee was formed by Congress, due to intense pressure from growing nativist organizations. Commonly referred to as the Dillingham Commission after its chairman, Senator William P. Dillingham, the United States Immigration Commission was organized to study the origins and consequences of recent immigrants to the United States. Concluding in 1911, the commission found that immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe posed a threat to American culture and society. A decision, which the commission was led to by individuals such as Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, a Republican Senator from Massachusetts and member of the Immigration Restriction League, who first proposed in 1909, the restriction of Southern and Eastern European immigration [22].

Rising pressure from Nativist organizations finally scored a major victory in 1921 for Nordicists in American immigration policy with the Emergency Quota Act. Intended to be temporary, the law added new features to immigration law, such as, numerical limits from Europe and a quota system for establishing those limits. The Act ultimately put into effect suggestions from the Dillingham Commission, thereby, favoring people of Northern Europe and discriminating against Southern and Eastern Europe. Interestingly the action set no limits on immigration from Latin America.

The law eventually was superseded by the Immigration Act of 1924, which included both the National Origins Act and the Asian Exclusion Act. It is this federal law, which Alexander Makedon points to in his paper, The Social-Psychology of Immigration: The Greek-American Experience that makes Greeks the most discriminated European immigrant. “As a result of the new immigration law of 1924, Greek immigrants were restricted to the lowest immigration quota than any other European group. If past immigration quotas can be used as a ‘discrimination index’, it may be argued that since Greeks were allowed the lowest immigration quota, they were ‘officially’ discriminated against the most[23].

Also referred to as the Johnson-Reed Act, after its two main architects, the vehemently racist Congressman Albert Johnson and Senator David Reed. The 1924 Act, limited the annual number of new immigrants from 3% to 2%, of any ethnicity's population already residing in the United States. However, the statistics used were according to the Census of 1890, rather than the Census of 1910. Supporters wished to establish a national identity, which favored native-born Anglo-Saxon Americans over Southern and Eastern Europeans [10], so to “maintain the racial preponderance of the basic strain on our people and thereby to stabilize the ethnic composition of the population[24].


Today, Greek-Americans have no knowledge that Nativist groups such as the Klan burned crosses in front of Greek homes and boycotted Greek-owned businesses. Today, the very term Anti-Hellenism does not even warrant a Wikipedia page, let alone an actual discussion of its existence. Why have the experiences of others that suffered side by side or for similar reasons been deemed worthy of study and official classification and yet the Greek experience continues to be viewed as merely the “average Immigrate experience”?

How is it that concepts such as Anti-Italianism can spawn academic study, yet Anti-Hellenism is left to the world of blogs? How is it, that anti-immigration legislation such as the Immigration Act of 1924 can be seen as evidence of Italophobia and Anti-Semitism, but, not of Anti-Hellenism? How have other immigrant groups been able to use the same experiences and legislative acts to legitimize their own unique forms of discrimination while Greek-Americans have not? This need to white wash the Greek-American experience and paint a picture of a happy and willingly assimilated community does nothing but harm to the Greek-American psyche. In fact, it is a dishonor to the memory of martyrs like, Dimitris Kalampokas and Nicholas Jimikas, who died because they were Greek.

[1] Margaret Quigley. The Roots of the I.Q.Debate 
[3] Watson, James D.; Berry, Andrew. DNA: The Secret of Life.
[5] Gregor, A James. "Nordicism Revisted"
[6] Gregor, A James. "Nordicism Revisted"
[8] Evangelis Tastoglou and George Stubos. Ryerson Polytechnical Institute, York University. The Pioneer Greek Immigrant in the United States and Canada(1880-1920s): Survival Strategies of a traditional family 
[12] Dan Georgakas. The Greeks in America
[13] South Omaha mob wars on Greeks", The New York Times. February 21, 1909.
[14] Matthew Namee. Anti-Greek Riots in Omaha
[15] Officer Lowery also pulled out his service revolver and shot the Greek man."Edward Lowery", Policeman Down Memorial Page
[16] South Omaha Anti-Greek Riot over today. The Eugene Weekly Guard Thursday February 25, 1909
[18] Larsen, L. & Cotrell, B. The gate city: A history of Omaha, Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press
[19] Helen Z. Papanikolas. The Exiled Greeks
[20] Henry P. Fry. The Modern Ku Klux Klan. Small, Maynard & Company, 1922.
[22] Senate Vote #126 (May 15, 1924)". Civic Impulse, LLC.
[24] Eckerson, Helen F. (1966). "Immigration and National Origins". Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science. The New Immigration