Slavic genealogy: Welcome (?) to America
Slavic immigration to the United States did not all occur at the same time nor at a uniform pace. Given the expanse of nationalities making up the Slavic peoples this is not at all surprising.
While Lady Liberty with her torch on high, the ‘Golden Gate’ of Ellis Island, and the piers of Castle Garden, Galveston, Baltimore, New Orleans, etc. accepted them, not all of these immigrants were met with open arms once they moved past these entry points into the interior of their new home country.
While this animosity was not unique to the Slav immigrants, it was often times very pronounced and open. This was not only true in the streets, avenues, and alleys of cities and towns, but even in the halls of Washington, D.C. For nearly a decade in the very early 1900s the United States Joint Commission on Immigration (the Dillingham Commission) studied immigrants and immigration.
A news story in the National Labor Tribune (Pittsburgh, PA) on March 4, 1909 was headlined “Report of the Joint Commission on Immigration of Very Great Interest – The Law Shown to Gbe Weak in Spots, Leaving Many Loopholes Open for Undesirable Immigrants.” This articles notes the Commission employed 198 people and had in the first two years along spent in excess of $344,000. This article is peppered with words such as ‘criminals’, ‘contagious diseases’, ‘dangerous types’, expressed concern over ‘the presence large numbers of Japanese, Chinese, and Hindus’, and more. Another article on the subject was headlined “Many Undesirables Get In. Women Brought Into U.S. Under Conditions Which Amount to Slavery”. This article also includes the statement “…notwithstanding the fact that the present law proposes to provide for the exclusion of every undesirable immigrant thousands of undeniably undesirable persons are admitted each year.” The table was clearly being set for what would be coming in the eventual 41-volume report of the Commission.
The outcome of the Commission would be a group of anti-immigration laws that would effectively bar immigrants from southern and eastern Europe as well as Asia. The ‘welcome mat’ for some was certainly being withdrawn.
Washington wasn’t the only place anti-immigrant fever was evident. In his 1895 article titled “History of the First Czechs in Cleveland, Ohio”, published originally in Czech in Ameriká Národni Kalendář, (Volume XVIII) Hugo Chotek recounts this story from some of the very first female Bohemian immigrants to the City:
“When those first sixteen families arrived to Cleveland, they received a cold, even cruel welcome from the local Americans. When the Bohemian women went to town as per their custom, barefoot and with shawls wrapped around their heads, bystanders would ridicule and holler at them, even going so far as to throw stones at them. The locals saw them as nothing more than gypsies, and they were neither valued nor wanted. No American would allow them to enter their homes and all 16 of them were forced to live in the courtyard and shed of Mr. Levý (who himself could only afford a small house) for many weeks.”
In 1919, Dr. Raul Rankov Radosavljevich (1879-1958), Professor at New York University work a two-volume work Who Are The Slavs? A Contribution To Race Psychology. It is interesting to me to note he dedicated this work “To the democratic spirit of the Slav. The faithful ally to: Untied States – the land of the free; Republican France; England – the mother of parliaments; Italy – the gifted mother of civilization.”
In Dr. Radosavljevich’s Preface to Volume I he says:
“That the Slavs are poorly understood in America even in 1918 is shown, for instance, by the fact that in the May number of Bohemian Revue (Chicago), there is a just complaint at the action of the College of the City of New York ‘in ordering the removal of the banners of the universities of Berlin, Heidelberg, Prague, and Cracow from the rafters of the great hall of the college.’ Such a regrettable occurrence is due only to gross ignorance: ‘to couple Berlin and Prague, Heidelberg and Cracow as four of a kind.’ If college people are not abe to discriminate what is Slavic and what is German what can be expected from the rest who read the writings of such intellectual centers. We ought to understand the Slavic peoples not only because there are about eight millions of Slavs in America but because of justice to the Slavic tribes who are sacrificing almost everything in defending democracy and humanity from the modern Huns.”
Editor’s Aside: If you are interested in Slavic history I recommend reading these two volumes. Dr. Radosavljevich touches on a wonderfully wide range of Slavic topics.
Decades later, Andrew Greeley put it succinctly in a newspaper article published in 1975 where he stated this about the Commission’s evident study: “most of it phony”. Greeley continued saying this phony study led to “the most unjust laws the United States has known in this century”. These resulting highly restrictive immigration laws focused on baring what the Commission deemed ‘inferior’ people from southern and eastern Europe and as Greeley again said “or, to not put too fine an edge on things, Italians and Slavs.”
So our ancestors had a combination of ‘local’ prejudices to deal with as well as prejudices being trumpeted across America through the media, academia, and more.
No wonder it is so rare to hear anyone trumpet “I am a Slav” when they discuss their genealogy, ancestry, and family history.
Next up…not only in America!