Greek Immigrants in the Southern United States 1895-1965

         ©2006 Larry Odzak. All rights reserved.          

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In the early 1900s, immigrants from southern and eastern European countries came to America in great waves, numbering hundreds of thousands. As they began the process of adapting and settling into places they selected as their new homes, they also established fraternal, social, religious, and political organizations.

Like other new Americans, Greek immigrants were joiners. They readily joined or organized voluntary associations of all sorts, promoting a variety of causes. Some ethnic societies were designed to perpetuate ties with the place or region of origin, thus they eased the inevitable culture shock experienced by all new immigrants. Others paralleled existing American associations, and helped the members become better citizens, more equipped to understand the new environment.

One Hellenic organization whose members intentionally minimized Old-World ties, and concentrated on succeeding in the new world, was the AHEPA. Greek American entrepreneurs, whose businesses and livelihood were endangered by sweeping nativism, rampant during and after World War I, particularly vicious in the South, formed the American Hellenic Educational and Progressive Association, popularly known by its acronym AHEPA.

Organized in 1922 in Atlanta, Georgia, this fellowship emulated American associations. English was the language used from the very beginning, at all functions. During the 1920s and 1930s, AHEPA attracted men whose primary concern was to penetrate and find acceptance in the middle strata of American society. Following the example set by Greek American entrepreneurs in the South, ambitious compatriots in other regions, especially in the north-eastern and mid-western states, swelled the ranks of the AHEPA, hoping to improve their status in the wider community.

In time, the Order of AHEPA attracted American members of other than Greek origin, who were likewise interested in promoting the Hellenic ideals of education, civic responsibility, individual excellence, and philanthropy. Today, it continues to be a viable fraternal association, with its headquarters in Washington, DC, and its nationwide membership organized in Districts, comprised of over 500 chapters. For a complete story on the formation and development of the AHEPA, read Chapter 3 of "Demetrios Is Now Jimmy:" Greek Immigrants in the Southern United States, 1895 - 1965.