The old man walks with a cane but stands erect and proud in church every Sunday. He's a regular fixture.The lines on his face are deep and betray a lifetime of working outdoors. His hands are large and still capable of grasping another hand firmly. Dressed in his Sunday best, his shoes shined, he comes alone. His wife is now in the advanced stage of Alzheimer's, living out her last days in a nursing home; she no longer recognizes him or remembers his name. His children are grown up and living out of state. He's lived in this Maine town all his life and he's not about to leave the only home he has ever known. Barba Kosta (Uncle Gus) is a friend of my Dad, who used to affectionately call him a "gerontopalikaro (an old palikari or man of action)". During the coffee hour after the liturgy, he sits with the old men, sips his coffee and talks about the old days. "My father was from Koritsa. A big strapping man who sported a handlebar mustache and had a heart of gold. He came to America after fighting in the war in the Greek Army. We lived up on the hill by Lincoln Street. It wasn't a fancy house but it was ours. My father loved the land and he had a beautiful orchard and a garden full of vegetables. He worked in the mill. It was back-breaking, dirty work. Back then, we weren't welcome in town. The KKK used to burn crosses and hold rallies down the street by the river." Another old timer chimed in. "Yea, I remember seeing them dressed in those hoods and white sheets marching down Main Street. My mother had no idea I was out there. You know what happened? They got to the bridge and a bunch of young Frenchmen and Greeks were waiting for them, blocking their way. They weren't expecting that and you know, after staring each other down for awhile, the KKK guys just turned around and went home." Barba Kosta smiled and clicked his worry beads. "I think wearing a mask and being a faceless person in a mob gives people the courage to do things that they wouldn't normally do. When I was eight years old, a bunch of 'em came to our house one night and started shouting 'Greeks go home.' My mother was terrified. My father picked up a big axe and waded right into the middle of this crowd of hooded men who parted like the damn Red Sea. He spit on the ground and said 'This my land, get out.' After a few tense minutes they just left. I saw the whole thing through the window and I never forgot."
The history of Greeks in America is replete with inspiring stories of accomplishment and success. It is a history of significant and important contributions to their adopted country, coupled by the struggle to overcome homegrown racism and nativism. The Greek-American community chose not to harp on past conflicts and discrimination. It chose instead to overcome the obstacles placed in its way and to struggle mightily against injustice by forming the American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association or AHEPA. This organization was established in 1922 in Atlanta, Georgia, in the heart of the old Confederacy to fight the growing threat of the burgeoning KKK in 1920s America. The untold story can be found here as related by one of AHEPA's past Supreme Presidents.