AHEPA Sunday

Venerable Pachomius the Great

Venerable Pachomius the Great

Beloved in Our Risen Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,

His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios, Primate of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America has designated May 15th as AHEPA Sunday. But what is AHEPA and how and why did it start?

AHEPA (American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association) was founded on July 26, 1922 in response to the evils of bigotry and racism that emerged in early 20th century American society. It also helped Greek immigrants assimilate into society.

Today, AHEPA brings the ideals of ancient Greece, which includes philanthropy, education, civic responsibility, and family and individual excellence to the community.

Although a majority of the membership is composed of Americans of Greek descent, application for membership is open to anyone who believes in the mission of the organization.

AHEPA Emerges 75 Years Ago to Win Battle Against Bigotry

It was 1922, Americans of Hellenic (Greek) heritage were suffering personal and economic intimidation orchestrated by the revived Ku Klux Klan. It was time for them to unify and organize, to protect and defend life and livelihood. The widespread and often violent discrimination against immigrants from Greece is an almost forgotten page of American history. This is probably because of their subsequent success and the great accomplishments of their descendants. Very few persons today, Hellenic (Greek) or not, are even vaguely aware of the massive continental strength of the Klan of the 1920s and its intensive persecution of foreign-born Greeks, including those who had chosen to become American citizens.

They do not know how deeply the evil shadows of bigotry, hatred and intolerance cast their malignant darkness over North America. Perhaps it is time to remind them.

The newly reorganized KKK rampaged against frightened immigrants and helpless minorities throughout the U.S. It dominated politics in states in both the North and South. In Canada, its dangerous wicked ways were transplanted and flourished, especially in the western provinces.

An estimated three million militant hooded Klansmen stalked across our continent, burning crosses and spawning terror. During its reign of power, the Klan elected sixteen U.S. Senators, eleven Governors and an undetermined large number of Congressmen, both Republican and Democrat. It reportedly exerted considerable influence in the White House.

Meanwhile, embattled but visionary Greek immigrant leaders met on July 26, 1922, in Atlanta, Georgia, to form the American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association (AHEPA), now better known as the Order of AHEPA. Not by coincidence, Atlanta was the home of the national Imperial Headquarters of the Klan. The most important goal of the AHEPA founders was to quickly and solidly establish better relations with non-Greeks. They agreed to do this by taking the positive high road of reason emphasizing assimilation, cooperation, persuasion and unlike their marked foes, non-violence.

The main discussion was how to best contain the wave of hostility which had almost drowned them. The ominous specters of twisted Americanism and KKK aggression spurred them to create a patriotic fraternal order espousing undivided loyalty to the United States. American citizenship, proficiency in English, active participation in the civic mainstream, economic stability, social unity and the pursuit of education. The latter was considered vital for its obvious gifts of knowledge and as the essential key to upward mobility.

The AHEPA founders were profoundly disturbed and alarmed by their bitter experiences with Klan prejudice and by reports of worse bigotry elsewhere. Even before the Klan reappeared, there had been senseless attacks on foreign-born Greeks, some fatal. However, the new Klan expertly and abrasively honored intolerance with brutal efficiency to silence and subdue all of its alleged inferiors.

Many Greek-owned confectioneries and restaurants failed financially or were sold at sacrificial prices to non-Greeks because of boycotts instigated by the Klan. Greek establishments doing as much as $500 to $1,000 a day business, especially in the South and Midwest, dropped to as little as $25 a day. The only recourse was to sell or close. The Klan often bolstered its boycotts by openly threatening or attacking customers entering and leaving. A Klan Imperial Lecturer told Klansmen in Spokane that Mexicans and Greeks should be sent back to where they came from so that white supremacy and the purity of Americans be preserved. Meanwhile, in Palatka, Florida, a Greek immigrant was flogged for dating a "white woman".

The Royal Riders of the Red Robe was a Klan affiliated assembled 'as a real patriotic organization' for approved naturalized citizens unluckily born outside the United States. However, in the ultimate snub of exclusion, immigrants from Greece, Italy and the Balkans were not eligible to join.

In Indiana, the state most politically controlled by the 1920s Klan, burning crosses were ignited in the yards of outspoken Hellenes (Greeks). Unprovoked beatings of Greeks were not reported to police lest another beating soon follow. Others were warned of dire consequences if they spoke Greek in public, even in their own business establishments.

Hoosier Democrat and Republican leaders actively discouraged naturalized Hellenes from filing for public office, forcing them to run as Socialist Party candidates. Fearful Greek Orthodox Christians indefinitely postponed impending plans to organize parishes. To avoid constant confrontation, long and difficult to pronounce first and last names of Greek origin were shortened or changed to more acceptable Americanized versions. False rumors spread by the Klan about supposed unsolved murders of Greeks in other states produced the desired dread.

Today, according to sociologist Charles C. Moskos, Jr., of Northwestern University, American Hellenes proudly rank first among all ethnic groups in individual educational attainment and second in individual educational attainment and second in individual wealth. They have succeeded in every facet of American life. The Order of AHEPA has played the prime historic role in this ascent.

True to its original mission, AHEPA financially supports scholarships, educational chairs, housing for the elderly, medical research, community programs, charitable projects and other worthy endeavors through contributions of more than any organization in America.

More recently, AHEPA $400,000 for the restoration of Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty and $775,000 or a sculpture commemorating the Centennial Olympic Games in Atlanta. AHEPA has received congressional and presidential recognition for promoting friendship and goodwill among the people of the United States, Canada, Greece and Cyprus. AHEPA moved its headquarters to Washington DC in 1924 and later expanded its scope by adding three auxiliaries to complete the AHEPA family for young women.

A sincere thank you to the AHEPA family for all that they have contributed to our country, to the Americans of Hellenic heritage, as well as to other minorities, and of course to the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.

May Our Risen Lord Jesus Christ bless you all.

In His Holy Diakonia,
+Father George D. Konstantopoulos