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Maintaining the Ties That Bind:

A Social Geography of the Greek Community of Charlotte, North Carolina

 

Penelope Karagounis

 

“At an early age, I realized I was born in a poor, big family with respect and love all around me, however as I grew older the dream of opportunities and success for me in my country was becoming impossible.  The only thing that I could think about was the fellow native man from my town, who left poor and returned home with success and wealth.  America changed him, so I saw America as my window to all opportunities and success.”[1]

 

As strangers in a new land, immigrants used their native tongue and shared culture to bind together in their new country.[2]  Greeks in Charlotte used occupational concentration, religion, culture, and to a lesser extent residential segregation to be the basis for their ethnic solidarity and identification.  This is a preliminary study about how the Greek community in Charlotte, North Carolina has maintained its social structures and social activities as a social group.[3] The Greek community has maintained its ethnic enclave in Charlotte for over seventy-five years.

Most of the Greek immigrants that formed the majority of the original core of the Charlotte Greek community arrived in America in the early Twentieth Century and came from the Peloponnesian village of Arachova and from the province of Evrytania, in Central Greece.  Both of these groups came from rural backgrounds with only a few years of schooling.  Despite their lack of skills and meager education, they came with spiritual strength, courage and optimism.

Early History

These immigrants settled in Charlotte just as the city began its development as the region’s premiere commercial, banking, and transportation center.  The early seeds of Charlotte’s growth were sown in 1852, with the arrival of the railroad, which established Charlotte as a new place for economic opportunity.  After the Civil War, Charlotte became powerful as a local marketing and distribution center, especially for cotton and cotton products.  Cotton textile production became the South’s new economic base, and Charlotte and Mecklenburg County provided both the raw material and as well as the mechanisms for production and distribution.[4]  The three important factors that contributed to Charlotte’s growth were cotton, railroads, and banking Charlotte’s location as well as its connections to outlying hinterland areas and regional markets primed the city’s rapid industrial growth.  Thirteen textile mills and affiliated industries were established in the county between 1889 and 1908.[5] As early as 1906, there were more than 300 cotton mills within a 100-mile radius of Charlotte.[6] 

South Tryon Street looking north

 

 

In 1890, Charlotte’s downtown area was serviced by an electric trolley system.  The hub for downtown activity was Independence Square at the intersection of Trade and Tryon Streets and the confluence of pedestrian and trolley traffic made Independence Square a prime business location for downtown Charlotte. Industrialist D.A. Tompkins largely influenced this New South City. Tompkins came to Charlotte in 1882 to sell engines, boilers, and cotton gins for Westinghouse and quickly established himself as a civic leader and a prominent businessman.[7]  He strongly believed that Charlotte had all the necessary resources for industrial possibility, and successfully promoted them through various avenues.  He purchased The Charlotte Observer to use the paper’s broad influence to preach the doctrines of industrial development.”  Subsequent industrial developments were very significant for Charlotte and marked the beginning of new economic and social patterns.[8]  Other prominent Charlotteans respected him for his technical abilities and financial intelligence.[9]  Tompkins believed that every man, black or white, native born or foreign born could succeed in accomplishing the American dream, if they would work hard enough.[10]

Daniel Augustus Tompkins

      By 1920, Charlotte was still considered as a small city by national standards because it only had 46,000 people, but it was the largest and fastest growing city in the Carolinas.  By the end of the 1920s, eleven skyscrapers defined the downtown landscape, and all of them were located on Trade and Tryon Streets.  Charlotte businesses were clustered together according to a specific type along different locations of the city.  The best retail space was on and around Independence Square. East Trade Street and College, which were near the Square, became the center for wholesale produce and feed distributors.  East Trade Street was Charlotte’s commercial hub, home to every business type.[11]  This was the primary location for the city’s few immigrant businessmen.  Many Greeks, Syrians, Jews, and Italians earned their living as fruit dealers, peddlers and dry goods merchants; many entrepreneurs who could not afford a storefront conducted their business with pushcarts in this area.

According to popular legend, the first Greek came to Charlotte in 1898. He skipped ship while in Charleston, South Carolina, arriving in Charlotte from Corinth.  This Greek sailor set himself up in business by opening a small peanut stand in the first block of East Trade Street.[12] This romanticized story has not been definitively verified, but the notable aspect of this fable is that this immigrant quickly established himself as the proprietor of a small business on Charlotte’s main commercial street. Subsequent Greek immigrants in the Carolinas and in other areas of the South distinguished themselves as entrepreneurs, clearly preferring to own their own businesses than to work for someone else or to work in any of the growing industrial concerns in the region. [13] The arrival of the first Greek immigrants in Charlotte signaled the creation of a chain migration of more immigrants to this area.  When the first immigrants became economically successful, they sent for their relatives and friends from their home village.  Like other immigrant groups in the early twentieth century, Greeks typically migrated to places where other Greeks had settled.  In the Carolinas, once Greeks established their own business, they could provide passage for family and friends from Greece to emigrate and help them out in their businesses. 

Mamalis Pool Hall, Evrytanian Association "Velouchi"

The majority of Greek migrants who came to Charlotte were mostly from the Peloponnesian village of Arachova and from Evrytania; others came from similar small mountain villages or from small islands. Both Arachovitans and Evrytanians came from peasant villages in isolated mountain regions and migrated to America to escape the widespread poverty in Greece. Most of the early immigrants were single men who immigrated with the intention of working for a few years abroad, sending money back to their families to help pay taxes, establish dowries for sisters, or to help with other expenses, and then to return home with a healthy stash of savings after several years of work. Few of them never initially considered the possibility of making Charlotte their permanent home. 

Village of Micro Horio in the Province of Evrytania, Evrytanian Association "Velouchi"

Their bleak fortunes in Greece conditioned them to work hard and inspired them to try their best to succeed in America. Once they arrived in America, these immigrants made considerable investments in their futures. They had to learn a new language, American customs, and southern mannerisms. As they became more adept as businessmen, they invested in their own inventories, equipment, and storefronts. Within a few years, many immigrants had thriving businesses that required hired help, and the help of choice for Greeks was to hire greenhorn brothers, cousins or friends.  The increasing number of Greek immigrants to Charlotte formed the core of Charlotte’s Greek community in the early twentieth century. Once this core of mostly single young Greek males was securely established in and committed to a business concern, they either returned to Greece to find a wife, or sent for a bride to join them in America.

Constantine Kokenes’s story is similar to that of many young men who migrated to Charlotte in the early Twentieth Century. Kokenes left Greece at fourteen and came to Charlotte in 1905 because his uncles needed help with their fruit stand business.  He did not speak a word of English, and arrived with a tag on a string around his neck saying, “Send this boy to Charlotte”.  Unfortunately, when he got off the boat in New York, he was put on a train to Charleston, South Carolina.  When he got to Charleston, a policeman found a Greek pushcart vendor who rerouted the boy back to Charlotte.[14]  Mr. Kokenes worked very hard and diligently to make himself successful in America.  He later returned to Greece to marry and brought his wife to Charlotte. Mrs. Vasiliki Gekas Kokenes was the first Greek woman in Charlotte; she arrived in 1914.[15]

Mrs. Vasiliki Kokenes with four of her children. Photo courtesy of Christina Kokenes Skouris

 North Carolina did not have a disproportionately large immigrant population, and the general population did not appear threatened by foreigners.  Although the Greek population in North Carolina was small, the immigrants were very visible because they concentrated in urban areas and they functioned as small businessmen that had day-to-day contact with the native born community.  For instance, in 1910, North Carolina had 174 foreign-born Greeks living in North Carolina.  Eighteen percent of these lived in Charlotte or Wilmington.  Thirty percent of Greeks immigrants settled in the Piedmont’s textile corridor: in Mecklenburg, Wake, and Durham Counties.[16]  In the 1920s, Greek settlement continued in areas that held the greatest economic promise, the Piedmont and a number of cotton growing counties in the Coastal Plain. In the 1930s, the greatest concentration of Greeks was in Charlotte, which by this time was the largest city in North Carolina.  Many Greeks abandoned the Coastal Plain and moved to the Piedmont.  By 1940, the majority of the Greeks were concentrated in the strong urbanized counties of the Piedmont.  The three Piedmont counties with the highest percentage of Greeks were Mecklenburg, Forsyth, and Guilford.  Smaller settlements of Greeks were in other Piedmont counties and in small town market centers in eastern counties.[17]  According to the 1940 Census, North Carolina’s Greek population had grown only to 1,114.[18]  The arrival of these immigrants gave a small burst of economic growth in North Carolina at the turn of the century through the introduction of the small businesses in which Greeks were concentrated: cafes, fruit stands, candy shops, and shoe shine stands.

The Significance of the Church

In Charlotte in 1920, there were approximately 30 to 40 Greek families. The Hellenic Orthodox Community formed in 1924 with a community president and a full-time priest.  At this time, however, there was not a formal Greek Orthodox Church established in Charlotte.  Church services were held at several locations, including a building on the second block of South Tryon Street and the Chamber of Commerce Hall at 15 West Fourth Street. When these locations were not available for use by the church, the Greeks were usually able to prevail upon the goodwill of the Charlotte community. For example, in the spring of 1927 the Greeks had no place to perform Holy Week services, and Saint Peter’s Episcopal Church offered the use of their sanctuary.[19]  Before the Greeks had a church of their own, weddings were often celebrated at St. Peter's and infant baptisms were usually performed at home substituting a washtub decorated with crepe paper for the baptismal font.[20]

This situation prompted the Greeks to search for a sanctuary. In 1927, the Ahepa’s (American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association) Marathon Chapter allowed the church to share a second floor location on East Trade Street for church.[21]  This served only as a temporary solution, however. As the parish population grew, the facility on the East Trade Street location became overcrowded and the Greek community realized the necessity for a permanent church. 

The campaign for a new church facility began in the late 1920s, on the eve of the Great Depression.  While many people were struggling in the 1930s, the Greeks were financially committed to the acquisition of their own church facilities.  Some of the fundraisers to raise money was selling raffle tickets and producing several Greek plays, which were performed in the Carolina Theater on North Tryon Street.[22]  Many Greek restaurant owners would place a tin can near their cash registers to collect money for the church from their restaurant patrons.[23]

The principal value that the Greek community has is its religion.  The church provides a safe place to socialize with other Greeks and to maintain language and other cultural aspects that have no place within the greater community. In many Greek households the church serves as the essential spiritual and cultural underpinning that helps the Greek families to preserve their heritage in a foreign country.

In 1930, the dream of having a church became a reality.  The Greeks in Charlotte purchased the former Westminster Presbyterian Church at 1437-39 South Boulevard for about $32,000.  The new church was located in Dilworth and was conveniently located for most of its parishioners. The facility was very sizable with a large sanctuary, a fellowship area convertible to classroom or auditorium space, office, and kitchen facilities for the growing parish.[24]

During the early Twentieth Century, the Charlotte city population was expanding out from the city center. Streetcar suburbs became increasingly popular with the growing middle class, and by the 1920s such neighborhoods were fashionable, as well as desirable places to live. Many institutions like churches, schools, and even hospitals began to move into the suburbs. Many of Charlotte’s well-established families lived in the suburbs such as Dilworth and Myers Park. The Greeks were slowly sorting out into the suburbs too.  Their success in businesses allowed the majority of Greeks who had been in Charlotte for over fifteen years to start settling in middle class neighborhoods.  The majority of Greeks lived near and around the downtown area.  The Immigration Quota Laws of the early 1920s, the Great Depression and the Second World War effectively curtailed Greek immigration. The resident Greek population stabilized in the 1930s-40s and grew only through natural increase and by the addition of those who moved to Charlotte from other locations in the United States. The slow growth of Charlotte’s Greek population during this period allowed the Greeks to stay at this church location for nearly twenty-four years.

The Odysseus Family, Photo courtesy of Evangelos Stassinos

            After The Second World War, the Greek community, once again, planned for expansion.  The community was growing because the first generation Greek American born were getting married and from the arrival of post-war immigrants.  The story of Stavros Stassinos illustrates the phenomenon of post-war immigration.  Stavros Stassinos had immigrated to America in 1909, but returned back to Fragista, Greece to be with his family, never thinking to return back to America.  Unfortunately, World War II broke out and the Germans burned down the whole village of Fragista.  The disastrous fire situation left the Stassinos family with no home or money, which prompted them to leave for America.  They arrived in the United States on September 1946 by an American Army Transporter called SS Marine Carp. After first settling in Hampton, Virginia and then to Knoxville, Tennessee, the family finally settled in Charlotte to join Stavros’ brother Odysseus to operate George’s Grill in Charlotte.  As the years went by Stavros helped to bring over other family members, which continued the chain migration of Greeks to Charlotte.  

George's Grill. Photo Courtesy Evangelos Stassinos

In 1950, the parishioners voted to buy the East Boulevard block and mansion that had been owned by Edward Dilworth Latta and later by J.A. Jones at a price of $75,000.[25]  Ground was broken in 1953, and the new Cathedral was consecrated in 1954. The site was extremely large and spacious, but “the Jones Mansion, a beautiful edifice, was entirely inadequate for the multiplying needs of the ever-growing community of Charlotte.”[26] As more immigrants came to Charlotte from Greece in the 1960’s the need for an additional building was very important.  Even though both the mansion and cathedral could coexist on the property, the new Hellenic Community Center and the proposed educational building would not fit on this block. The mansion came down, and the community center went up in 1967.  The destruction of the mansion, closed a door for a historic showplace but it opened a window for one of the richest cultures and one of the largest ethnic groups in the city.[27]

Procession in front of the Jones Mansion, Photo courtesy The Charlotte Observer

The Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church provides many spiritual and social offerings to suit every member of its community.[28]  The size of the ethnic community appears to be a determining factor in the group’s success in preserving their heritage. Charlotte’s large Greek community is able to provide greater cultural amenities for its members without any obstacles than a small community is able to face.

Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church, Photo Courtesy The Charlotte Observer

A comparison of Charlotte to Burlington, a considerably smaller community, illustrates this point. Greeks settled in Burlington in the 1930s. The Greeks in Burlington initially also wanted a church to anchor their community, but their smaller population, and subsequent lack of funds delayed this goal until 1972.  By the late 1960s only thirty families resided in Burlington and volunteers finally established a Greek School.  Greeks from Burlington attended Greensboro’s church or churches in other neighboring cities like Danville, Virginia and Durham, until their church (St. Katherine) was built in 1972. This identifies on how Greeks would go to great lengths, traveling over forty miles to another town in order to worship and socialize with other Greeks.  Once the church was built, church services were not held every Sunday because they were a small community and could not afford a priest, so they would often share priests from neighboring cities.

St. Katherine's Greek Orthodox Church, Burlington, N.C. Photo Courtesy of the author

Today, the Greek community in Burlington has not increased significantly in population and remains at 50 Greek families.  The community has not been able to provide all of the resources that Charlotte offers to its community.  For instance, today church services are held every Sunday with a Sunday School but there is no longer a Greek School.  Due to the lack of funds to pay an educated Greek teacher and the trouble to find a teacher in the area has caused the Greek School to fade.  A couple of families that have the time to commute to High Point, North Carolina, which is thirty minutes south of Burlington, drive their children to that Greek community’s Greek school. Another reason for not having a Greek School is there are fewer families with children in Burlington.  The generation that grew up in the 1960s and 1970s has relocated to other cities because of marriage or career choices, leaving the older generation behind.  The few young families that still live in Burlington find it more difficult to preserve their heritage. However, many of the families that cannot commute to another Greek School, find the time, inspiration, and responsibility in teaching their children on their own about the Greek language and culture.  Regardless of a Greek School not existing, this small Greek community still finds the inspiration to preserve their heritage with the small resources that they have.

The Greek community in Charlotte is larger and has provided its parishioners with many organizations through the stewardship that the church receives from its large membership.  The strong financial support the community enjoys maintains the foundation of the stable Greek parish.  Some of the most important organizations that the church sponsors are its Greek School, Greek Festival, Sunday School, Youth Programs, Choir, and the Ladies Philanthropic Society.

            The Greek School has been in place since 1926, long before the establishment of the church.  The first Greek School class was held in a classroom at Central High School. Before the construction of the Hellenic Center, Greek School classes were held in the church basement and seasonal performances were held at Fireman’s Hall and at the Charlotte Woman’s Club. Today, the Greek School afternoon program is held in the educational building on East Boulevard, two days a week for about two hours a day.  Children attend Greek school for about six years (kindergarten to sixth grade), where they learn about their heritage as well as to speak, write, and read in Greek.  Learning the Greek language provides the children with another layer of understanding of their culture.

Central High School

            During the year, the Greek School presents many programs to the Greek community.  One of the most important programs celebrates March 25th, Greek Independence Day.  It brings a large segment of the community together to celebrate Greece’s independence from the Turkish rule.  It is a very emotional and inspirational day for the Greeks.  A morning church service precedes the Greek School program; the students march to the Hellenic Center to raise the Greek and American flags.  The raising of the two flags shows that Greeks believe deeply in their heritage but also recognize their new country, which has given them so many opportunities, that they could not have gained from their own country. The 25th of March includes dances, and patriotic plays and poems. In Charlotte, this program has been performed for seventy-five years.  It strengthens and assures Greeks that as long as they have a Greek School, their children, who are first, second, or third generation Greek-Americans can maintain part of their heritage in America. Approximately 128 students enrolled for the 2000-2001 Greek School term.  Some children commute thirty miles to attend Greek school.

Greek School, March 25th Program. Photo courtesy Catherine Hantzos.

Another feature that shapes and entrenches the Greek community in Charlotte is its annual Greek “Yiasou” Festival, organized in 1977.  The Charlotte Greek community is proud of its heritage and avid to share it during the Yiasou Festival.[29]  The annual event shares Greek culture with the broader Charlotte community.  In 1999, more than 45,000 people came to taste samples of Greek food and experience cultural events, such as music, dancing, artistry, and church history. Many Greeks come together and volunteer at the festival for the four-day event.  However, many people do not know that the actual process of coordinating and preparing for the event takes place as early as May.  The young children begin practicing their new dances for the upcoming event and women prepare pastries.  Men take time away from their businesses to cook on festival days. 

While the outsiders learn about Greek heritage, the Greek people learn as well.  Older women show younger girls how to make the baked goods, so they can learn these customs too. The children who dance at the festival have been performing for years from very early ages.  They all work together in groups to learn these dances, so a great deal of social interaction occurs with other Greek students.  Having a strong connection with other Greek children allows the Greek children to sustain themselves in the Greek traditions.  The Greek festival is an event that educates both Greeks and non-Greeks in Charlotte.

Ed Martin of the Charlotte Observer wrote, “Cultural heritage.  It’s hard to see.  To feel.  It’s even harder to keep.  One day, it’s there.  The next, it vanishes into the pot of homogenized accents, one-size-fits-all polyester suits, popular music, and made-for-the masses menus”.[30]  This is not true for the Greeks in Charlotte.  From the earliest arrival of Greek immigrants, they stuck together bound by religion, culture, and ethnicity.  Often using and relying on their church as a main meeting place, Greeks were determined to preserve some of their traditions and customs.  These traditions and customs are the heart of the Yiasou festival. The atmosphere and the cultural displays make the festival one of the most popular ethnic festivals in Charlotte.  In the words of one parishioner: “We’re so proud of our traditions, our heritage, and our church.[31]  The Greek festival defines the shared heritage that the Greek community experiences in Charlotte.

Residential Patterns

            Greek residential patterns have changed in the past 90 years. In the 1920s, Greeks lived in the downtown area, mostly in First, Second and Fourth Wards. In the early period, before the arrival of women and the establishment of families, Greek shopkeepers sometimes lived in apartments over their storefronts.  

Map courtesy Paula M. Stathakis

 By the 1940s, Greeks were still concentrated in the downtown residential areas and they also followed streetcar lines into suburbs such as Dilworth, Biddleville, Elizabeth and Jackson Heights.[32]

Map courtesy Paula M. Stathakis

Greece remained politically and economically unstable in the 1960s and 1970s.  The lingering effects of the Second World War and the Greek Civil War kept most people dependent on the government, which was too poor and too disorganized to help them.  The lack of economic development or privatization of jobs destined the majority of Greek citizens to low paying and dead end jobs.  The best chance to improve their economic status was to come to America, as generations had done before them.  Inspired by the earlier success stories of other family members, who had made a good life in the U.S., a new wave of immigrants arrived to make their fortunes.

A new wave of Greek immigrants from Arachova and Evrytania expanded heavily in the 1960s-1970s to Charlotte.  The new Greeks concentrated in the Sedgefield and Colonial Village neighborhoods, many on Belton and Sloan Streets.[33] A large cluster of Greeks lived together on these two streets.  Many of the families that lived next door to each other were either related, soon to be related, or from the same village.  As each year went by after 1965, the Belton and Sloan Street became to grow with more Greek immigrant occupants.

As the Greek immigrants became financially secure, they moved out of the working class neighborhood to middle class neighborhoods.  The pattern of migrations was sustained for several years and as one Greek left, another took their place on Belton or Sloan Street.  Greek immigrants left their cultural imprint on the neighborhood by planting fruit trees, similar to those most notably in Greece, grape vines and fig trees. 

By the 1980s, many Greeks still lived on Belton and Sloan Streets, but a Greek immigration was declining and a new wave of immigrants would dominate the neighborhood.[34]  In the late 1980s, the Asian immigrant population was growing and they looked for houses in the Sedgefield and Colonial Village neighborhoods.[35]  Asian immigrants replaced Greeks in the duplexes on Belton and Sloan Streets.  After twenty years of Post World War II migration most Greeks who chose to stay in Charlotte were able to move to the middle class neighborhoods.  These two streets even begin to change again in the mid-1990s, when the Latino immigrants moved to the neighborhood and the Asian immigrants transitioned into other middle class neighborhoods.[36]  In this sense, the Sedgefield and Colonial Village neighborhoods are very historic and ethnic neighborhoods that have provided many immigrants with affordable housing in the first phase of their experience in America.  By 2000, there is still a diverse ethnic landscape on Belton and Sloan Streets.  Belton Street contains more Greeks than Sloan Street.  The majority of the Greeks living on Belton Street now own rather than rent the duplexes or houses.  Some Greeks who own the properties on Belton Street, do not live there but use them investment purposes.  You never know if another long lost cousin might show up from Greece and need a place to stay.  As the intensity of the Greek dialogue on the Belton and Sloan Streets has faded over the thirty-five years, other immigrants are still there enjoying the fig trees.

The older Greek immigrants that came to Charlotte in the first half of the twentieth century moved into the new middle class neighborhoods, such as Ashbrook/Clawson Village off of Park Road and Woodlawn Road.  The younger Greek immigrants that came to Charlotte in the later half of the twentieth century settled into this neighborhood beginning in the late 1970s, a trend that continues to the present. The primary reason for settling in this neighborhood is its proximity to the church, that it is a middle class neighborhood with larger homes and a clustering of other Greeks, and which enabled Greeks to continue their social interaction with each other.  Today, the Greeks are still dispersed in the Ashbrook/Clawson Village neighborhood on streets such as Heather, Bevis, Ashcraft, Paddock, and Jersey.

By the mid 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, Greeks dispersed even farther out in neighborhoods in southeast Charlotte on Carmel Road, Rea Road, Providence Road, Rama Road, Albemarle Road and even in towns like Pineville, Huntersville, Concord, and Indian Trail.  The Map on the Locational Analysis of Where Greek School Students Live in 2000, shows a considerable number of students living in Southeast Charlotte. Many of these students are second generation Greek Americans. Their grandparents or parents were once residents in either the Sedgefield, Colonial Village, or Ashbrook/Clawson Village neighborhoods and some still live there today. 

 

However, the Greek immigrant’s children do not need to live around the South Boulevard/Woodlawn Road area because they have become more assimilated and do not have to rely on other Greeks anymore. The first and second generation Greek Americans are more educated and their economic status permits them to settle in affluent South Charlotte neighborhoods. This is why many of the Greek school students commute many miles from Union, Cabarrus, and Gaston counties to their destination on East Boulevard.

The Establishment of a Second Church

In its seventy-fifth year history, the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church has grown tremendously and weathered many changes.  Interfaith marriages are more common, and many other Orthodox people who are not of Greek descent have joined the Greek community.  In spite of controversy, liturgies are said in English, as well as Greek.  The church officials have changed some rules to accommodate other non-Greeks.  Even though some rules have changed, the bricks that laid the foundation for this community were the Greeks and it should never be forgotten.

The growth of the community and the concentration of residential dispersal in south Charlotte have necessitated the organization of a second church.  In the last ten years, the Greek Orthodox community membership has increased by more than thirty percent, adding nearly 8,000 people to the community roster.[37]  To accommodate this growth, a second church was needed.  The second Greek Orthodox parish, St. Nektarios, functions with the same organizations that the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church offers.  The establishment of a second church helps accommodate more people into the Greek Orthodox faith and culture and creates a second anchor in which new generations preserve their ethnic and social values.  Since the establishment of St. Nektarios church, membership of families has increased from 65 to 280 by the year 2002.[38] The map Location Analysis Of Where St. Nektarios Greek Orthodox Parishioners Live In 2000 shows that the parishioners are scattered among six counties.  The majority of the parishioners are located in the south corridor of Mecklenburg County.  These parishioners are clustered in the Southern portion of the county but do not necessarily live in the same neighborhood.  This map clearly identifies that people continue to commute longer distances for a place of worship.

 

 

The parish of St. Nektarios purchased land on Kuykendall Lane in South Charlotte in 1998. In the four years prior to the acquisition of their own sanctuary, St. Nektarios’s services were held in the auditorium of South Charlotte Middle School.  However, during Holy Week services, the South Charlotte Middle School location is not available for use by the church.  Holy Week services for St. Nektarios took place in a chapel at Elatos Park in Weddington, which is owned by an organization of Greeks from the province of Evrytania. The early history of St. Nektarios is a late-twentieth century re-enactment of the early history of the first Greek Orthodox Church in Charlotte: parishioners held a variety of fund-raising events to finance constructions, and used civic buildings for worship services until their own church was ready.

St. Nektarios Greek Orthodox Church, Photo courtesy of the author.

 

 

 

Social and Cultural Refuge

The Evrytanians established Elatos Park over twenty years ago, so they could have a “social club” for their own group of people in Weddington.  The people of Arachova have a similar facility near Crowder’s Mountain in Gaston County.  Both parks have a chapel and dancing and dining pavilions, and both facilities are open to all Greek people. Even though the Greek community is large, the immigrants segregate themselves in their own groups.  Through these clubs and facilities, Greeks from these places have been able to maintain relationships across the continents and generations.

The Arachovitans

In 1923, young immigrants from the Peloponnesian village of Arachova formed a local fraternal society and decided to have annual picnics and conventions. Their official intention as an organization was to function as a benevolent society for their village; one of their earliest projects was to raise money to provide plumbing for the village. The secondary reason for their organization was to provide a venue for immigrants from Arachova who lived in various places in the Carolinas and in the United States to keep in touch with each other to alleviate the hardship of being away from home and from the familiar aspects of their culture. They decided to have annual reunions, or picnics in August at the time to the festival of the Assumption of the Virgin, [August 15]. In 1928, they purchased forty acres in Gaston County at the foot of Crowder’s Mountain. Original buildings include a dining hall and dancing pavilion and chapel was built there in 1930. Summer Greek school classes and summer camp were also held there in the 1930s.  With the purchase of the park, the picnics became three-day events and were attended by Arachovitans from all over the country, some traveling from as far away as California or Toronto, to visit family and friends.[39]

The Evrytanians

On October 23, 1944 in Charlotte, North Carolina, a few Evrytanians met at the Tom Cavalaris home on Queens Road to organize the Evrytanian Association of America.[40]  The individuals named it “Velouchi”, which is the highest mountain in Evrytania.  At this first meeting, they planned their first convention for all Evrytanians to come together to socialize and dance, which is still held in June at various locations in the Southeast.  The main purpose for the establishment of this organization was to help the war torn people in Evrytania.  One of the greatest decisions that the Evrytanian Association made was the building of the hospital in Karpenisi in 1953.  The Velouchi continued to help Evrytanians by establishing a boarding house for the high school students in the village of Kerasohori, financially assisting needy families, and offering scholarships to Evrytanian youth both in Greece and in the United States.[41]  The most recent and important project for the Evrytanian Association has been the nursing home (Gerokomeio) in Karpenisi.  The Evrytanian Association thought of the idea in establishing a nursing home in Karpenisi, which raised $150,000 to furnish the building and later the government proceeded with the project.  The national headquarters of the Evrytanian Association of America is located in Charlotte.  Today, there are seventeen Evrytanian Association Chapters; the Elatos represents the Charlotte Evrytanians who maintain the twelve-acre park in Weddington.  Elatos Park has annual gatherings, or picnics in August at the time of the celebration of Panagia Proussiotisa, August 23.  An all night vigil is held at their chapel on the 22nd of August, and many faithful people attend the service.

Summary and Conclusion

The Greek immigrants who first settled in Charlotte maintain a close relationship with other Greeks.  There is no “Greektown” or Greek neighborhood in Charlotte, although there are cases in which Greeks gather together within particular neighborhoods, such as in Sedgefield, Colonial Village, and Ashbrook/Clawson Village in the late 1950s-1970s, in the Providence Road/ Rama Road area in the 1970s to 1980s, in the Carmel Road area in the 1980s to 1990s. Today Greeks continue to be dispersed farther out from the city of Charlotte.  Although concentrations of Greeks are found in these areas, the density of the Greek residents in these neighborhoods is not sufficient to identify them as Greek neighborhoods. Greeks may not live side by side, they still find time to socialize with one another. 

Many Greeks are in the restaurant business.  These businesses are second to the church as a key place for Greeks to socialize and interact with other Greeks.  Patrons of a Greek-owned restaurant will see other Greeks eating there, working there, or even socializing with the owner. Greeks have created and maintained institutions that facilitate the perpetuation of their culture. The Greek people share strong social and cultural spaces.

Through the church, Greek School, and the Yiasou festival, the Greek community in Charlotte has maintained its social structures and activities as a cultural and ethnic group.  For over seventy-five years, the Greek community has maintained its identity largely through the organizations and services based on the core sponsorship of the church.  The Church is not only the spiritual center for the community, but also the agent of the preservation of language, tradition, culture and folkways. Through the strength of this institution, Charlotte Greeks have preserved a version of their heritage in America. 

In the 1920s, a strong Greek community was formed with a few Greek individuals.  They worked hard to assimilate into their new home, but were also determined to keep their heritage alive in Charlotte.  Through all the struggles that the Greek immigrants endured in Charlotte, they were strong, confident, and optimistic to establish a Greek community.  Today’s educated Greek-Americans have the skills, assets, and time to keep their heritage intact in order for this Greek ethnic community to continue to grow in Charlotte.  The Greek community represents itself well, as a strong ethnic group for the entire region.  Through their hard work, determination, and faith, they have kept their community strong and important with the diverse ethnic groups of Charlotte.

             

           

 

 

 


 


[1] A quote from a Greek immigrant who arrived in Charlotte, North Carolina in 1971. 

[2] Lilian B. Rubin, “Is This A White Country, Or What?” In Rethinking The Color Line, Readings In Race And Ethnicity, ed. Charles A. Gallagher, 464-474. 

[3] Social geography is primarily concerned with the study of the geography of social structures, and social activities, and social groups across a wide range of human societies. See Chris Hamnett, Social Geography. A Reader, (London: Hodder Headline Group), 1996, p. 3. 

[4] Survey and Research Reports: Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission, The Atherton Cotton Mills, An on-line resource: www.cmhpf.org/S&RR/atherton.htm 

[5] Ibid. 

[6] Ibid. 

[7] Mary Norton Kratt, Charlotte, Spirit of the New South, (John F. Blair, Publisher, Winston Salem, North Carolina, 1992), pp. 100. 

[8] Paul D. Escott, “Many Excellent People: Power and Privilege In North Carolina, 1890-1900.” (The University of North Carolina Press, 1985),  p.198. 

[9] Mary Norton Kratt, Charlotte, Spirit of the New South, (John F. Blair, Publisher Winston Salem, North Carolina, 1992), pp. 102. 

[10]Dan L. Morrill, A History of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County, Chapter 8:  Jim Crow and The Defeat of Populism, An on-line resource: www.danandmary.com/historyofcharlotte.htm 

[11]Thomas W. Hanchett, Sorting Out The New South City, (The University of North Carolina Press, 1998), pp. 90.  

[12]Tom Fesperman, “Greeks Make Steady Gains Over Years.”  Charlotte News, 24 September 1939: B1

[13] Paula Maria Stathakis, “ Almost White: Greek and Lebanese-Syrian Immigrants in North and South Carolina , 1900-1940” (Ph.D. Dissertation , University of  South Carolina, 1996), see Chapter IV. 

[14] Mary Norton Kratt, pp. 190. 

[15]  Steven G. Kokenes, undated letter to the Holy Trinity Committee for Church History, Charlotte, North Carolina.  

[16] United States Census of the Population, 1910. 

[17] United States Census of the Population, 1910, 1920, 1930, 1940. 

[18] Paula Maria Stathakis,  “Locational Analysis of Greek-Owned Restaurants in Charlotte, N.C. and Columbia, S.C., 1920-1940.”  In Snapshots of the Carolinas: Landscapes and Cultures, ed. Gordon Bennett, 37-42.   

[19] Jim Karres,  “The Way It Was.  Part 2:  Charlotte’s Early Greek Community.”  The Voice

[20] Steve G. Kokenes. Undated typescript 

[21] Ibid. 

[22] Community History Committee.  Charlotte, N.C.  Typescript of Committee Interviews.  March 17, 1982. 

[23] Interview, Mr. Greg Stathakis, August 29, 2002, Charlotte, North Carolina and Mr. Evangelos Stassinos and Mrs. Dina Stassinos, August 26, 2002, Charlotte, North Carolina. 

[24] Karres, “The Way It Was. Part 2

[25] The property of J.A. Jones had a stipulation for the sale of the property, which it had to be sold to a church organization. 

[26] Brad Bradbury, Dilworth, The First 100 Years,  (Charlotte:  Dilworth Community Development Association, 1992), pp. 90. 

[27] A Ben Hur mural was preserved from the Edward Dilworth Latta home and still exists today in the Social Room of the Hellenic Center. 

[28]  Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church Website, Charlotte, North Carolina.  www.greekorthodoxclt.org 

[29] Catherine Chapin, “A Greek Festival Awaits At Yiasou ‘81’.”  Charlotte Observer, 11 September 1981. 

[30] Ed Martin, “Greek Community Sends Greetings With Upcoming Yiasou! Festival.” Charlotte Observer, September 1981. 

[31] “Community Celebrates Heritage.” Charlotte Observer,  9 September 1993. 

[32] Interview, Mr. Greg Stathakis, August 29, 2002, Charlotte, North Carolina. 

[33] Charlotte City Directory, (1965, 67, 68, 69, 1971, 72, 74, 75, 76) 

[34] Charlotte City Directory, (1980, 85) 

[35] Charlotte City Directory, (1987, 89, 1990) 

[36] Charlotte City Directory, (1990, 93, 95, 2000) 

[37] Tim Funk, “From ‘MethoBaptist’ to Melting Pot.” Charlotte Observer 20 May 1999. 

[38] Membership Statistics for Year 2002 from St. Nektarios Greek Orthodox Church 

[39] Gus N. Harakas, et. al., Karyatika. Volume II. (A publication of the Arachovitan Society, 1970), pp. 69-75. 

[40] Evrytanian Association “Velouchi”, 1996, pp.16. 

[41] Evrytanian Association of America Brochure, First Edition, 2002.