Establishing fraternal, social, and religious organizations was a way in which Greek immigrants settled into their new communities. While some Greek societies were short lived, others became staples of the community.[i] In 1907, there were around 100 societies in existence.[ii]The majority of the societies had 15 to 30 members with councils of 12 to 15 people that governed it. [iii]There was, however, a lack of organizations or groups focused that had a financial component.[iv]
Societies not only helped Greek immigrants adapt to their new communities, but also provided aid to the villages from which immigrants came. This was the main difference in many of the established societies, you had those promoting Americanization and those devoted too preserving their culture and returning home. Societies based on common locality–topika somatiea— brought Greeks together from a specific area, helping each other and helping those left behind, while instilling kinship within the community.[v]
The Panhellenic Union was based on the premise that most Greeks would return to their homeland, so Greek members tried very hard to maintain their faith and language while they were in the United States. The Panhellenic Union was also responsible for recruiting volunteers for the Greek army at the beginning of World War I. As many as 35,000 Greeks returned home to fight against Turkey in 1912 and Bulgaria in 1913 and collected close to $375,000 and provided passage to volunteers. The organization, however, became indecisive at the end of the Balkan War. There was a chance that the United States might enter the war on the allied side, threatening the royalists neutral or pro-German leanings.[vi]
Because of the need to maintain ties to Greece and the family left behind, the “topika somatiea” or Panhellenic Union was a very beneficial organization. On the other end of the spectrum was AHEPA, the American Hellenic Educational and Progressive Association. It was first organized in Atlanta, Georgia, and English was its first language. AHEPA first acted as public relations for Greeks who made their home in the United States to diminish nativist feelings among native-born whites.[vii] To do this, it intentionally minimized Old-World ties and promoted citizenship and Americanization.[viii]
Kinotis means organized community in Greek. Many southern Greeks, once they hit the “critical mass number,” would create orthodox churches, hire a priest, and partake in a traditional religious life.[ix] Whenever enough Greeks settled in a city, kinotis was formalized by the election of a council at an opening meeting of interested Greeks.
A year after the end of the 1913 Balkan War, there were fewer local and patriotic societies in the South. Chapters existed in some Hellenic communities but on a much smaller scale. Fewer societies were prominent at the end of the war for the fear of offending their native-born, white neighbors.[x]
The majority of the time, Greek newspapers promoted strong ties to Greece in highly populated immigrant areas. However, editorials periodically urged their readers to “Americanize.” As early as 1904, The Hellenic Star published an appeal by some Greek community leaders that “Americanization is the star that will guide us to prosperity, success, and progress. Let us adopt this great country as our own.”[xi] There was a constant push and pull between AHEPA and the Panhellenic Union to Americanize or maintain ties to Greece. Especially in the 1920’s, immigrant newspapers tended to focus on European issues rather than current struggles of immigrants in the United States.
In contrast to AHEPA, there was an organization founded in December of 1923 known as GAPA. GAPA stood for the Greek American Progressive Association and consisted of immigrants trying to preserve traditions created in the New World. It was not the most financially established organization, because it could not attract the interest of the wealthier immigrants, GAPA also refused on multiple occasions to move on from the past, and this caused a decline in potentially interested parties.[xii]
Greeks had a fairly stable relationship with the KKK. Until 1920, Greek store owners in Atlanta and other southern cities had little to fear as long as they did not openly flaunt ideologies. As long as the Greeks embodied the idea of “white,” the KKK was not a threatening them. By 1929, the KKK declined, allowing AHEPA –and other groups–to expand their activities and continue to promote Americanization.[xiii]
By the 1930s, the survival of AHEPA was contingent upon protecting programs that did not draw all support to specific regions in Greece. In 1940, Greek Americans took strong interest in the war effort. In 1944, AHEPA was able to purchase headquarters in Washington, D.C and have a permanent location. AHEPA also pledged its support for the Americans in the Cold War. As the years progressed, it also became increasingly interested in Greek causes.[xiv]
[i] Lazar Odzak, “Demetrios Is Now Jimmy”: Greek Immigrants in the Southern United States, 1895-1965 (Durham, N.C: Monograph Publishers, 2006) 85.
[ii] Ibid, 86-87.
[iii] Ibid, 87.
[v] Ibid, 86.
[vi] Ibid, 88.
[vii] Ibid, 86.
[viii] Ibid, 69.
[ix] Ibid, 36.
[x] Ibid, 89.
[xi] Ibid, 92.