Maintaining the Ties That Bind:
A Social Geography of the Greek
Community of Charlotte, North Carolina
“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.”
strangers in a new land, immigrants used their native tongue and shared
culture to bind together in their new country.
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.
The Greek community has maintained its ethnic enclave in Charlotte for over
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.
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
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
As early as 1906, there were more than 300 cotton
mills within a 100-mile radius of Charlotte.
South Tryon Street looking north
In 1890, Charlotte’s downtown
area was serviced by an
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.
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.
He strongly believed that Charlotte had all the necessary resources for
industrial possibility, and successfully promoted
them through various avenues. He
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.
Charlotteans respected him for his technical
abilities and financial
Tompkins believed that every man, black or white, native born or foreign
born could succeed in accomplishing the American dream, if they would work
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.
This was the primary location for the city’s few immigrant businessmen.
Many Greeks, Syrians, Jews, and Italians earned their living as fruit
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
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
Mrs. Vasiliki Kokenes with four of her
children. Photo courtesy of Christina Kokenes
did not have a
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
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.
According to the 1940 Census, North Carolina’s Greek population had
grown only to 1,114.
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
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.
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
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
Many Greek restaurant owners would place a tin can near their cash registers
to collect money for the church from their restaurant patrons.
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.
During the early Twentieth
Century, the Charlotte city population was expanding out from the city
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
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
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
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.”
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
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”.
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.
The Greek festival defines the shared heritage that the Greek community
experiences in Charlotte.
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
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
and Jackson Heights.
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.
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
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.
In the late 1980s, the Asian immigrant population was growing and they
looked for houses in the Sedgefield and Colonial Village neighborhoods.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
A quote from a Greek immigrant who arrived in Charlotte, North Carolina
Lilian B. Rubin, “Is This A White Country, Or What?” In Rethinking
The Color Line, Readings In Race And Ethnicity, ed. Charles A.
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.
Survey and Research Reports: Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks
Commission, The Atherton Cotton Mills, An on-line resource:
Mary Norton Kratt, Charlotte, Spirit of the New South, (John F.
Blair, Publisher, Winston Salem, North Carolina, 1992), pp. 100.
Paul D. Escott, “Many Excellent People: Power and Privilege In North
Carolina, 1890-1900.” (The University of North Carolina Press, 1985),
Mary Norton Kratt, Charlotte, Spirit of the New South, (John F.
Blair, Publisher Winston Salem, North Carolina, 1992), pp. 102.
W. Hanchett, Sorting Out The New South City, (The University of
North Carolina Press, 1998), pp. 90.
Tom Fesperman, “Greeks Make Steady Gains
Over Years.” Charlotte News, 24 September 1939: B1.
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.
Mary Norton Kratt, pp. 190.
Steven G. Kokenes, undated letter to the Holy Trinity Committee for
Church History, Charlotte, North Carolina.
United States Census of the Population, 1910.
United States Census of the Population, 1910, 1920, 1930, 1940.
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
Jim Karres, “The Way It Was. Part 2: Charlotte’s Early
Greek Community.” The Voice.
Steve G. Kokenes. Undated typescript
Community History Committee. Charlotte, N.C. Typescript of
Committee Interviews. March 17, 1982.
Interview, Mr. Greg Stathakis, August 29, 2002, Charlotte, North
Carolina and Mr. Evangelos Stassinos and Mrs. Dina Stassinos, August 26,
2002, Charlotte, North Carolina.
Karres, “The Way It Was. Part 2.
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.
Brad Bradbury, Dilworth, The First 100 Years, (Charlotte:
Dilworth Community Development Association, 1992), pp. 90.
A Ben Hur mural was preserved from the Edward Dilworth Latta home and
still exists today in the Social Room of the Hellenic Center.
Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church Website, Charlotte, North Carolina.
Catherine Chapin, “A Greek Festival Awaits At Yiasou ‘81’.”
Charlotte Observer, 11 September 1981.
Ed Martin, “Greek Community Sends Greetings With Upcoming Yiasou!
Festival.” Charlotte Observer, September 1981.
“Community Celebrates Heritage.” Charlotte Observer, 9
Interview, Mr. Greg Stathakis, August 29, 2002, Charlotte, North
Charlotte City Directory, (1965, 67, 68, 69, 1971, 72, 74, 75, 76)
Charlotte City Directory, (1980, 85)
Charlotte City Directory, (1987, 89, 1990)
Charlotte City Directory, (1990, 93, 95, 2000)
Tim Funk, “From ‘MethoBaptist’ to Melting Pot.” Charlotte Observer
20 May 1999.
Membership Statistics for Year 2002 from St. Nektarios Greek Orthodox
Gus N. Harakas, et. al., Karyatika. Volume II. (A publication of
the Arachovitan Society, 1970), pp. 69-75.
Evrytanian Association “Velouchi”, 1996, pp.16.
Evrytanian Association of America Brochure, First Edition, 2002.