Greek Immigrants in the Southern United States 1895-1965

         ©2006 Larry Odzak. All rights reserved.          

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Submitted to AHEPAN, a magazine published quarterly by the Order of AHEPA [American Hellenic Educational and Progressive Association in Washington, DC..  This book

review appeared in the Winter 2009 issue, on page 11.

     "Demetrios Is Now Jimmy:" Greek Immigrants In The Southern United States, 1895-1965.  Author: Lazar "Larry" Odzak; (Durham, NC.:Monograph Publishers, 2006. Pp. 260, end notes, index, bibliography. $24.95)

     In the context of mass migration from eastern and southern Europe, around the turn of the twentieth century, "Demetrios Is Now Jimmy"  specifically

examines the arrival of Greek immigrants to the southern cities of the United States and the newcomers' remarkably rapid adjustment to life in the developing New South.     

     By and large, Greeks in the South tended to earn their living by operating small service businesses, such as sandwich shops, shoe-shine stands, fruit stalls and other ventures requiring minimal start up money.  The author successfully tests the thesis put forth by both historian Theodore Saloutos and social historian Charles Moskos, that in the South, entrepreneurial contact with the American majority population accelerated the adaptation of Greek immigrants to American ways; the Greeks realized much earlier than their compatriots in other areas that America would become their permanent home.  Odzak aptly describes their rise to middle class status, along with the constant conflict faced by every immigrant family: a desire to be accepted into the social and economic fabric of the new homeland, while at the same time trying to preserve and maintain the inherited Hellenic culture and traditions, and especially their Orthodox religion.

    The author's chapter on the formation of the AHEPA, during the rise of the second Ku Klux Klan, is most engaging, as he describes for us the ingenious way founders of our fraternal organization managed to deflect the nativist hate for all that is foreign.  Other chapters cover a variety of Greek immigrant experiences in diverse southern cities, including Atlanta, Birmingham, and New Orleans, where one finds the earliest Greek Orthodox parishes in the South, and Tarpon Springs, where Greek sponge divers populate the only "Greek-town" in the southern states.

   "Demetrios Is Now Jimmy"  is a well written, informative, and stimulating book, that will appeal to all readers interested in Greek American chronicles.  This work fits nicely into the gap between Theodore Saloutos’s wide ranging The Greeks in the United States and Charles Moskos's Greek Americans: Struggle and Success on one hand and a few local histories that describe immigrant circumstances in particular cities in the South. Odzak’s work is marked by excellent detail, yet it also gives a much needed overview of the whole “southern” experience.  

Reviewer:  ANDREW A. CHRISTAKOS, Historian

Past President of AHEPA Chapter #277


The Charter (a publication of the Friends of North Carolina Archives)

Winter 2006-2007, page 3

    In August 2006, Monograph Publishers of Durham, N.C., published archivist Larry Odzak’s new book “Demetrios Is Now Jimmy:” Greek Immigrants in the Southern United States, 1895-1965. The hard cover book has 260 pages, end notes, bibliography, and an index.

    “Demetrios Is Now Jimmy” explores in part the mass migration into the United states from southern and eastern Europe; specifically, the work explores the arrival of Greek immigrants to the southern urban areas, and their remarkably rapid adjustment to life in the New South. The book contains an extensive overview of the historiography dealing with the perennial process faced by every immigrant – the process of “becoming an American.” The adaptation and acculturation of newcomers to life in America involved a constant conflict, seen in members of every ethnic group: a desire to be accepted into the social and economic fabric of the new country, as well as an impulse to maintain and preserve the inherited culture and traditions.

    “Demetrios Is Now Jimmy” also reveals the other side of the coin. A generation or two later, Americans of Greek origin still struggle to maintain their heritage and to show it to advantage by way of ubiquitous Greek festivals, where for at least two or three days a year one can feast on traditional Greek food and music, and enjoy the displays and exhibitions portraying the Hellenic and Byzantine past.

    The book can be purchased directly from the publisher for $24.95 (in NC add $1.68 sales tax): Monograph Publishers, 204 Pineview Road, Suite 1, Durham, NC 27707. For additional information, please e-mail

    Reviewer: Glenda Montague

    Office of Archives and History

    NC Department of Cultural Resources

    Raleigh, North Carolina

The North Carolina Historical Review Volume 84, No. 1, January 2007; pp.115-117:

    "Demetrios Is Now Jimmy" is an insightful study that explores the seldom analyzed world of Greek immigrants in the South.  The book focuses on the South as a whole, examining the broad patterns of Greek immigration and assimilation.... testing a hypothesis put forward by sociologist Charles Moskos, [who] seeks to understand the reasons behing the "accelerated assimilation" that occurred within [Greek] communities [in the South].  He also examines the manner in which Greek immigrants and their descendants preserved their traditions and customs while adjusting to life below the Mason-Dixon line.  The result is an interesting study that does much to advance our understanding of Greek immigration, as well as how smaller, underrepresented ethnic groups confronted the problems and challenges of the immigration process.

    ....... waves of new immigrants hitting the shores of the United States included four hundred thousand Greeks who entered the country between 1890 and 1921 (p. 9).  Yet while the Greek presence in the South grew, it remained relatively small in comparison to its counterpart in the North.  By 1910, Greek populations in the South (except for the Tarpon Springs community) typically ranged from a low of 80 migrants in Augusta, Georgia, to a high of 550 inhabitants in New Orleans (p. 21).  Clearly, the South's limited industrial activity deterred Greeks from moving to the region.  Yet, as Odzak points out, hardworking Greek immigrants discovered opportunities in the New South.  After moving to southern cities, Greeks quickly developed economic niches in their new communities and worked as fruit vendors, grocers, bootblacks, and restaurateurs.  These activities allowed them to establish a foothold.....and pursue even greater entrepreneurial activities.  Far from being part of the faceless, impoverished masses toiling in urban factories, Greek immigrants in the South became a well-recognized middle-class presence....

    ....... Odzak's study makes it clear that not all Greeks endorsed business leaders' efforts to craft a homogeneous Greek-American identity.  It is apparent that divisions existed within the Greek communities in New Orleans, Birmingham, and Tarpon Springs.  Odzak struggles to make connections between the different forces at work in these communities.  As he points out, geographical origins, divergent political views, and generational differences all played a role in precipitating splits within the Greek...[population] of these cities..... New Orleans sailors, Birmingham ironworkers, and Tarpon Springs sponge fishermen all resisted the message of assimilation emanating from the Greek business community..... [Although] these three [places]...contained distinct working-class communities....Odzak makes little effort to explore these divisions from the perspective of the working-class..... Still, this shortcoming is a relatively minor blemish on what is a worthwhile study that does much to develop readers' understanding of immigration.

         Reviewer: John Olszowka

         Mercyhurst College

         Erie, Pennsylvania

The NATIONAL HERALD, May 26, 2007, book review section "BOOKS"  [The National Herald is a weekly publication with its head offices in New York, NY and Athens, Greece]

   In this issue we review four non-fiction books dealing with the immigrant experience.  They include Growing Up Greek In St. Louis by Aphrodite Matsakis;  My Detroit: Growing Up Greek and American in the Motor City by Dan Georgakas;  "Demetrios Is Now Jimmy:" Greek Immigrants in the Southern United States, 1895-1965 by Larry Odzak; and Remembering Newark's Greeks: An American Odyssey by Angelique Lambros.  Through these books, you can vicariously [participate in] the immigrant experience.

    Several themes emerged from these books....immigrants faced virulent prejudice when they came here at the beginning of the 20th century. They worked at backbreaking menial jobs to put bread on the table and help their families back in Greece.  (We didn't become one of the best-educated and wealthiest immigrant groups overnight.)  The immigrants struggled to transmit their Greek heritage to the younger generation, a generation that sometimes fought against the old-world ways and rebelled against going to Greek school.  Most of the immigrants (not all) realized the dream of finding a better way of life for their families in America and became respected members of the community.

   I invite you to read these books...

Elaine Thomopoulos, managing editor.

     "Demetrios Is Now Jimmy" follows academic conventions. The author sorts through a considerable corpus of scholarly works on immigration and ethnicity, whose citations are dispersed throughout the book.  A readable account, the book provides useful archival information and oral testimonies on regional history.  Comparative in scope, it dedicates whole chapters to immigrant adaptations in cities such as New Orleans, Birmingham, and Tarpon Springs. Furthermore, a chapter exploring the "Formation and Development of Greek immigrant Communities in the American South" includes discussions and comparisons of the cases of Atlanta, Jacksonville, Savannah, Charleston, Raleigh, and Mobile.

    The book discusses the transformation of the Southern Greeks from immigrants to ethnic Americans through "selective adaptation."  The argument here is that immigrant adaptations must be seen as a process of acculturation, not wholesale assimilation.  A key to the selective retention and inter-generational transmission of ethnicity was the early establishment of ethnic and religious institutions.  To this end the author discusses the changes that defined two prominent institutions, American Hellenic Educational and Progressive Association (AHEPA) and the Greek Orthodox Church, up to the mid-1960s.  A chapter entitled "Fraternal Bonding and Conservatism: Jimmy Joined AHEPA" situates the establishment of AHEPA and its subsequent development within the region's racial politics.  Another chapter, entitled "From Byzantine Rites to Civil Rights," discusses the transformation of the Greek Orthodox Church in the South from immigrant to ethnic.

    ..... A particular research question animates the author's project.  The primary goal is to test the hypothesis known as the "Southern variant" of the Greek immigrant experience.  First proposed by sociologist Charles Moskos, the hypothesis states, "Greeks in the South achieved residential and economic upward mobility faster and in greater proportion than Greeks elsewhere in the United States."  Odzak builds on empirical evidence to prove that this hypothesis is true in regards to self-employed immigrants but not the working class.  He compares the "ratio of Greek-owned businesses the total Greek population" in Northern cities to corresponding data in Southern cities, concluding that the percentage of self-employed immigrants was higher in the South.  He also cites the early "Greek family formation in the South," and the Southerners higher rate of immigrant intermarriage with whites as further evidence of mobility.  The author believes that the "Southern variant" was caused by a combination of factors.  They include the importance of "timi" (honor), which prodded them to succeed in the workplace, the relentless presure to asimilate, the acceptance of those who assimilated as "white," and the smaller numbers of the Greeks in the south, which discouraged the formation of immigrant enclaves.

    ..... One of the author's contributions rests in showing how erroneous it is to explain ethnic success on the basis of cultural values alone.  The discussion makes it clear that one must account how other variables in the host society - institutional and everyday racism for example - may propel some groups to the path of upward mobility, while barring this opportunity to others...... The fresh perspective is that in racially segregated regions  it was the immigrants who were seen as the solution to a growing demand for service businesses, not local racial minorities.

    ..... The author sets himself the ambitious goal of covering 70 years of Greek immigrant adaptation in the South.  But his discussion of the second and third generation is way too general and often sketchy.  The aim to identify historical patterns and to paint history with broad strokes occludes particular events, everyday situations and minute incidents that do not fit the general pattern. ..... A number of questions could guide future research.  Did sectors within the immigrant community in the South (women, the working class, or wage laborers who eventually became small business owners, for example) hold alternative visions of success?  Did they resist racism and its cultural counterpart, 100% Americanism, embracing alternate visions of a socially and economically just American society?

    Reviewer: Dr. Yiorgos Anagnostou

    Associate Professor, Modern Greek Program

    Ohio State University  

The Journal Of Southern History   February 2008, Vol. 74 [#1], pp. 211-213.

"Demetrios Is Now Jimmy:" Greek Immigrants in the Southern United States, 1895-1965. By Lazar "Larry" Odzak. (Durham. N.C.: Monograph Publishers, 2006, Pp. 260. $24.95, ISBN 0-9778024-1-8)

     Ah, the book I wanted to write - almost.  Having grown up in one of the Greek communities discussed herein, I experienced Lazar "Larry" Odzak's very useful study of Greek immigrants in the South as a sort of homecoming.  Other research projects having foiled my own good intentions to write such a book, I am pleased that Odzak has done so - and done it quite well at that.

   The introductory chapter sets out the author's purpose and situates his work in the context of general and Greek immigration studies.  Odzak successfully tests Theodore Saloutos's thesis that entrepreneurial contact with native-born Americans accelerated the Americanization of Greek immigrants.  Similarly, Odzak verifies Charles Moskos's belief that Greeks in the South realized that "America would become their permanent home" earlier than compatriots in other regions (p. 10).  Successive chapters survey Greek immigration patterns to southern cities, Greek American involvement in fraternal and political organizations, and Greek Orthodoxy in the southern milieu.  A sequence of chapters on the Greek communities in New Orleans, Birmingham, and Tarpon Springs, Florida, concludes the book.

    There is much to commend in this work.  Odzak writes well and backs up his prose with very thorough research.  He shows clearly that Greek immigrants astutely capitalized on the increasing need for services in the New South era.  Many avoided industrial labor, for example, in Birmingham's steel mills, and operated small businesses like restaurants and fruit stands.  He also demonstrates how dealing with the non-Greek public facilitated both Greek immigrants' Americanization process and their journey to middle-class status.  The book aptly describes how Greeks adapted to their host culture by Americanizing their names, joining fraternal and political organizations, marrying non-Greeks, and most important, adopting the South's social attitudes on race.  The Hellenic tradition of democracy served double duty, convincing Greeks that they could embrace American traditions and still be Greek while assuring white southerners that these particular immigrants could and would become good Americans.

     Certain questions, however, may point to some weaknesses.  Odzak describes the formation of the American Hellenic Educational and Progressive Association (AHEPA) as a self-conscious effort to avoid running afoul of the Klan during the 1920s.  Noting that its founders deliberately echoed nativist language ("100 percent Americanism") and used a Klan-affiliated attorney for its incorporation, one wonders if Odzak downplays the opposition in Greek American communities to this strategy (p. 96).  One hopes that more Greek Americans objected to AHEPA's associations with the racism and violence of the Klan, and not merely its decision to make English the exclusive language of the organization.

    To date very little has been published on Greek Orthodoxy in the Bible Belt, and Odzak makes a useful contribution in that area.  His treatment is largely institutional, focusing on the ways that parishes maintained differing religious, geographical, and political ties to the homeland.  In discussing Orthodoxy in the American South, however, the author would have better served his readers by asking how Greeks' traditional faith made peace (or failed to) with southern evangelical culture.  Writing about Birmingham's Reverend Sotirios "Sam" Gouvellis, who openly opposed George Wallace and supported Martin Luther King in the mid-1960s, Odzak captures the poignant tension of Greek immigrants' being pulled between adopting the racial views of the dominant culture and adhering to the ethical principles of the ancient faith.  But having been a friend of the Gouvellis family in my boyhood, I know there was more drama to the story than appears in Odzak's narrative.  More such stories throughout the work would have made a good book into an excellent one.

Reviewer:  Andrew M. Manis

Macon State College