“Rosy Cheeked Girl the Cause of It All”: The English Teenager Who Nearly Toppled the Southern Immigration Movement

by

Vince Lowery

      On October 2, 1906, English teenager Hilda Barnes boarded a train in Charlotte, North Carolina, bound for Washington, D.C.  Stranded and penniless when she arrived, the local press publicized the plight of this innocent immigrant lost in a foreign land, but Barnes’s story changed frequently as local law enforcement officials scrutinized her claims.  The investigation into her travels resulted in the trial of three mill managers and their representative, all accused of violating alien contract labor laws by recruiting Barnes and roughly eighty other English men and women to work in textile mills in North Carolina.  In prosecuting these mill officials, the federal government challenged the various public and private campaigns to recruit foreign laborers to the South in the early twentieth century, threatening the southern immigration movement just as it reached its climax.[1]

The Washington Post published a series of articles about Barnes’s ordeal shortly after she arrived in the city.  She claimed that she had traveled from Manchester, England to New York City with her mother.  They searched for an uncle, but they did not know his address.  According to the teenager, they met her cousin, John Barnes, who convinced her to join him on a trip to Charlotte.  He abandoned her at the train station when they arrived in the Queen City.  Filling her story with colloquialisms that delighted the Post reporter, Barnes explained that “a bobby” paid for her ticket to Washington; the officer apparently assured her the metropolitan police department could help.  After she arrived in the nation’s capital, a police officer took her to the city’s House of Detention, a facility for women who had been “deserted by husbands or friends who may be for the time being within the District.”  The English teenager described her troubles to officials at the detention center, but they doubted her story.  They suspected that she had been “abducted and brought to America by someone who wished to realize on [sic] her abilities in a circus.”  According to the Post, Barnes previously performed an equestrian act in a circus that toured England, but she opted for more respectable employment in a factory.  While the newspaper expressed concern for her well-being, questions lingered.  A final admission prompted a federal investigation into her travels:  Barnes confessed that her name was in fact Edith Goode Elliotte (identified as Edith Good on the passenger list of the R. M. S. Carmania, which arrived at Ellis Island on September 20, 1906, and identified as Edith Goode in all subsequent reports) and that she had been recruited to work in a mill in Gastonia, North Carolina.[2]

Ill. 1: Postcard of the S.S. Carmania from the Maritime Digital Archive Encyclopedia (http://www.ibiblio.org/maritime/media/displayimage.php?album=10856&pid=31547#top_display_media).”

Federal officials suspected that Goode was one of “as many as 1000” English immigrants contracted to work in southern factories by labor recruiters.[3]  The Alien Contract Labor Law (1885), also referred to as the Foran Act, “made it ‘unlawful’ for any individual or firm to import or otherwise arrange for the importation of workers.”  The Knights of Labor had pressed for this legislation in 1885, and the American Federation of Labor (AFL) lobbied for additional restrictions to protect native workers from foreign competition in the early twentieth century.[4]  In 1906, the AFL asked the Department of Commerce and Labor to investigate possible violations of the alien contract labor law by North Carolina mill officials and South Carolina’s Department of Agriculture, Commerce, and Immigration, which pre-paid for the passage of 480 German and Belgian immigrants who arrived in Charleston one month after Goode appeared on the streets of the nation’s capital.  The State (Columbia, South Carolina) suggested that the English teenager was responsible for this “mighty row about the violation of immigration laws in North and South Carolina.”  Although South Carolina officials were absolved of any wrongdoing, the AFL continued to demand action to cease the importation of foreign labor by southern states.[5]

In November 1906, the Department of Justice received a Bureau of Immigration report implicating English mill worker and labor agent Thomas Costello, D. A. Tompkins Company’s general manager, Sumner B. Sargent, and Chadwick and Hoskins Mills president, E. A. Smith, and its secretary and treasurer, E. C. Dwelle, in a scheme to recruit English laborers illegally.  The Department of Justice charged these men with conspiring to circumvent alien contract labor laws.  When the trial began in February 1907, defense attorneys claimed that “hundreds and thousands of spindles [were] idle solely because labor could not be found to operate them,” conditions under which federal law permitted the recruitment of foreign labor.  Testifying on behalf of the prosecution, labor leaders, including United Textile Workers president John Golden, argued that qualified, native-born workers were readily available if mill owners paid proper wages and maintained safe working environments.  Despite these claims, the prosecution conceded the point to the defense.  Sargent advised his employer, immigration advocate Daniel Augustus Tompkins, that the government’s case had become “a hopeless wreck,” and the Department of Justice soon abandoned it.  Defense attorney Charles Tillett proclaimed that the outcome effectively negated alien contract labor laws and legitimized employers’ efforts to recruit workers abroad.[6]

Ill. 2: North Carolina Mills Postcard (n.d.), Courtesy of “Cotton Mills in New South Charlotte” (http://www.cmhpf.org/educationtextilehistory.htm)

Although the Costello case ended favorably, southern immigration advocates still feared federal intervention. Responding to a request made by the House Committee on Immigration the day before the trial began, President Theodore Roosevelt instructed Attorney General Charles J. Bonaparte to assess the legality of the Palmetto State program.  Just as the government’s case against the mill men collapsed in early March, Bonaparte announced “that it is unlawful for a state government to pay the passage of intending immigrants or to assist immigration otherwise than by advertisement.”  This decision prohibited the primary means by which agents lured European laborers to the Carolinas.  Alarmed by this ruling, North and South Carolina immigration advocates met with Roosevelt, Bonaparte, and Secretary of Commerce and Labor Oscar Strauss at the White House one week later.  These meetings inspired Bonaparte to reverse his ruling and permitted states to pre-pay immigrants’ passage, thus undoing what the “buxom, rosy-cheeked, bright-eyed, English girl” supposedly began.[7]

Krystyn Moon, Bluford Adams, and David Voelker generously reviewed earlier versions of this essay and provided important suggestions to improve it, and Renee Ettinger, Lindsay Hahn, Daniel Richter, and Tom Cole provided valuable research assistance.  Moon agreed to host the essay on the Southeastern Immigration Blog and steered it across the finish line, preparing it for public consumption.

[1] On the southern immigration movement, see, for example, Rowland T. Berthoff, “Southern Attitudes Towards Immigration, 1865-1914,” Journal of Southern History 17, no. 3 (August 1951): 328-360; Willard B. Gatewood, Jr., “Strangers in the Southern Eden: The South and Immigration, 1900-1920,” in Ethnic Minorities in Gulf Coast Society, ed. Jerrell H. Shofner and Linda V. Ellsworth (Pensacola, Florida: Gulf Coast History and Humanities Conference, 1979), 1-24; Marcia G. Synnott, “Replacing ‘Sambo’: Could White Immigrants Solve the Labor Problem in the Carolinas?,” Proceeding of the South Carolina Historical Association (1982): 77-89; Erin Elizabeth Clune, “Black Workers, White Immigrants, and the Postemancipation Problem of Labor: The New South in Transnational Perspective,” in Global Perspectives on Industrial Transformation in the American South, ed. Susanna Delfino and Michele Gillespie (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2005), 199-228; J. Vincent Lowery, “‘Another Species of Race Discord’: Race, Desirability, and the North Carolina Immigration Movement,” Journal of American Ethnic History 35, no. 2 (Winter 2016): 32-59.
[2] “English Girl Is Stranded,” Washington Post, October 4, 1906, 10; “See Immigrant Plot,” Washington Herald, October 12, 1906, 3; “Was She Abducted?,” Washington Post, October 5, 1906, 4; “Girl Has Another Name,” Washington Post, October 7, 1906, 4; “Girl of Mystery Tells Her Story,” Washington Times, October 7, 1906, 10. On the House of Detention, see “The House of Detention,” Washington Evening Star, August 12, 1900, 12.  The Carmania’s passenger list has been digitized and made available on Ancestry.com.
[3] Washington Post apparently defied orders to withhold reports about Barnes’s story.  According to the Newport (Rhode Island) Mercury, federal officers feared that any public report would undermine their investigation into the southern immigration movement.  The Rhode Island newspaper suggested this apprehension was well-founded, announcing that “money has been sent to her in an effort to get [Goode] out of the reach of the authorities and put a stop to the investigation.” See “Washington Matters,” Newport (Rhode Island) Mercury, October 20, 1906, 4.
[4] On alien contract labor laws, see Charlotte Erickson, American Industry and the European Immigrant, 1860-1885 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1957), 148-186; Gwendolyn Mink, Old Labor and New Immigrants in American Political Development: Union, Party, and State, 1875-1920 (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1986), 108-110, 194-198; Roger Daniels, Guarding the Golden Door: American Immigration Policy and Immigrants Since 1882 (New York: Hill and Wang, 2004), 28-29; Aristide R. Zolberg, A Nation by Design: Immigration Policy in the Fashioning of America (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2008), 194-196; Krystyn Moon, “On a Temporary Basis: Immigration, Labor Unions, and the American Entertainment Industry, 1880s-1930s,” Journal of American History 99, no. 3 (December 2012): 771-792.
[5] Although the AFL was primarily concerned with the influx of southern and eastern European and Asian immigrants, labor leaders’ hostility toward the northwestern Europeans in the Carolinas became evident as the cases unfolded.  On the AFL’s actions against the immigration work in the Carolinas, see “Federation of Labor Fighting Good Work,” The State, November 14, 1906, 1; “Much Ado about Immigration,” The State, November 19, 1906, 4; “Southern Immigration,” The State, November 27, 1906, 4; “Those English Girls,” Lumberton Semi-Weekly Robesian, December 21, 1906, 2; “Samuel Gompers on Immigration,” The State, December 21, 1906, 2; Zach McGhee, “Rosy Cheeked Girl the Cause of it All,” The State, March 10, 1907, 14; Samuel Gompers to Joseph Cannon, January 19, 1907, and Gompers to Theodore Roosevelt, March 6, 1907, both in The Samuel Gompers Papers, Volume 7: The American Federation of Labor Under Siege, 1906-1909, eds. Stuart B. Kaufman, Peter J. Albert, and Grace Palladino (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1999), 154-155, 195-196.  On the federal review of the South Carolina program, see Berthoff, “Southern Attitudes toward Immigration,” 341; Synnott, “Replacing ‘Sambo,’” 79; Lowery, “‘Another Species of Race Discord,’” 35.
[6] “Those English Girls,” 2; “Cotton Mill Men Under Arrest?,” The State, November 29, 1906, 1; “Charlotte Men Acquitted,” Statesville Landmark, March 12, 1907, 1; Charles W. Tillett, “How the Celebrated Greensboro Case Against Certain Mill Men under the Alien Contract Labor Law Was Fought and Won,” American Industries, March 15, 1907, 9-11; “More about Those Immigration Cases,” Fibre and Fabric, March 30, 1907, 5; Sumner B. Sargent to Daniel A. Tompkins, March 7, 1907 (underlining in original), Daniel Augustus Tompkins Papers (#724), Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC;  Lowery, “‘Another Species of Race Discord,'” 35, 53n15; The Samuel Gompers Papers, Volume 7, 186n14.  On Tompkins, see Erin Elizabeth Clune, “From Light Copper to the the Blackest and Lowest Type: Daniel Tompkins and the Racial Order of the Global New South,” Journal of Southern History 76, no. 2 (May 2010): 275-314.
[7] “Straus’s [sic] Reply Unsatisfactory,” Charleston News and Courier, February 27, 1907, 1; Samuel Gompers to Theodore Roosevelt, March 6, 1907 in The Samuel Gompers Papers, Volume 7, 195-196; “Was Unlawful,” Wilmington Messenger, March 7, 1907, 1; “Immigration Gets a Jolt,” Charleston News and Courier, March 7, 1907, 1; “Held that State Cannot Pay Fare,” The State, March 7, 1907, 1; “State Passage for Immigrants,” Wilmington Morning Star, March 9, 1907, 8; “Foreign Labor for the South,” Wilmington Morning Star, March 12, 1907, 8; “State-Aided Immigration,” Wilmington Messenger, March 12, 1907, 1; “The President and Our Immigrants,” Charleston News and Courier, March 12, 1907, 4; “Immigration Question,” Wilmington Morning Star, March 13, 1907, 4; “Foreign Labor for South,” Wilmington Morning Star, March 14, 1907, 5; “Passage Money for Aliens,” Charleston News and Courier, March 14, 1907, 1; “New Competition for Negroes,” New York Times, March 26, 1907, 8.  Historian Rowland Berthoff argued that Bonaparte’s ruling forced “southern states … to abandon their fifty-year-old immigration campaigns” and that “the tightening of the contract labor law … killed the state governments’ programs for assisted immigration.”  The White House conferences, however, inspired the attorney general to reverse his decision against these initiatives.  See Berthoff, “Southern Attitudes toward Immigration,” 341, 358; Synnott, “Replacing ‘Sambo,’” 79; Lowery, “‘Another Species of Race Discord,’” 35, 44-45, 58n58.

Monument to the Immigrant

Below are some photographs of the “Monument to the Immigrant,” which is located along the Mississippi River in New Orleans (yes–we used a similar image for our website header).  The statue, dedicated in 1995, commemorates New Orleans as an immigration hub, especially for Italians.  German, Irish, and Jewish American organizations also contributed to the construction of the statue.

In many ways, this statute speaks to ethnic revivalism, which appears in the late 1960s, and its 1980s offshoot, multiculturalism. As argued by Matthew Frye Jacobson in Roots Too, the celebration of the U.S. as a “nation of immigrants” emerges at a particular time when Americans are becoming increasingly aware of the role of race and ethnicity in our history.

Interestingly, most–if not all–of the organizations listed on the pedestal of the “Monument to the Immigrant” pre-date the ethnic revival (and later multicultural) moment and speak to a much more complicated notion of racial/ethnic identity and history in a city such as New Orleans.  The creation of organizations by immigrant groups has a long history in the United States, and includes public performances of heritage.  True, the components of heritage celebration (and the ideas behind them) have changed over time, but the practice has persisted nevertheless.  Perhaps the role of racial/ethnic identity in the late 20th century should be seen more as a continuation of the the ways in which immigrants and their descendants imagined and celebrated their heritage as well as a break from the past?

A History of Southern Immigrants in Eighteen Objects

If you were going to tell the story of an immigrant community through artifacts – photographs, letters, newspaper articles, objects from the community’s day-to-day life – what kinds of artifacts would you choose? Would you want to make sure that your chosen objects attested to the transnational connections between the community’s old and new worlds? Or would you center the story around the lives these immigrants made, and the ways they changed (or didn’t), in their new home? Would you focus on the communal leaders, the cultural and political “ethnic brokers” who helped the newcomers and the people among whom they now lived understand and relate to one another? Or would you elevate the quotidian, showing how politics and culture could be found in even the most ordinary acts? Would you want to emphasize the creation and maintenance of communal life, or would you reveal the fissures, the conflicting ideas that needed to be negotiated?

Of course, you’d probably want to do all of these things. Now: what if you had to tell this story in only eighteen artifacts?

This was the challenge posed to me and several other local historians by Timothy Frilingos, the Exhibitions Manager of the Breman Jewish Heritage Museum in Atlanta. Founded in 1996, the Breman is the largest Jewish history museum in the southeast. They recently dismantled their longstanding permanent exhibition on Atlanta Jewish history, with the intent of developing a new space and a new concept. Mr. Frilingos asked us each to send him a list of events, physical spaces, individuals, families, and historical themes – but no more than eighteen in total – that we would choose if we were going to curate an exhibit that told Atlanta’s Jewish history. The exercise evokes the amazing book A History of the World in 100 Objects by the director of the British Museum; the number eighteen, I assume, is a reference to the numerological value of the Hebrew word “chai,” which means “life.”

As a teacher, I do this kind of selecting and excluding all the time. Every subject I choose to include in a course’s curriculum represents a hundred other subjects I’m leaving out. One might call this kind of work curatorial. But museum curation seems especially daunting to me, and when I sat down to make my list I felt a little overwhelmed and outside my comfort zone.

I began with the intent of focusing on the immigrant experience, specifically. Atlanta has hosted a Jewish population since the 1850s, and for most of the nineteenth century a majority of Jews in the city were born in central Europe. By 1900, however, Atlanta’s Jewish population was changing: hundreds of Jewish immigrants had recently arrived from the Pale of Settlement and elsewhere in eastern Europe, and the central European-born population was shrinking, both actually and relative to the newer group. This ethnic shift was entirely typical of Jewish communities all over the U.S., and Jewish historical museums have found ways to tell this story everywhere: the more established population moves to a better neighborhood, and the newcomers take their places; a new synagogue (or two or three) is founded to serve the spiritual needs of the newcomers; the “uptown” Jews look down on their poorer “downtown” brethren, and their paternalistic efforts to help inspire resentments and cultural clashes. Atlanta’s Jewish history offers plenty of evidence of all of this. So my list of eighteen began with the founding of The Temple by central European Jews in 1867, Ahavath Achim by eastern European Jews in 1886, and Or V’Shalom by Sephardim from the Ottoman Empire in 1914. It included the cemeteries where the earliest members of each of these congregations are buried, the names of the immigrant Jewish entrepreneurs who started important businesses in the city, and the secular institutions that these Jews had created. So far, so good.

But the “immigration” story soon gets more complicated. By the end of the nineteenth century, the number of American-born Jews had more than doubled, from 369 in 1880 to 876 in 1896.[i] From that time forward, native-born Jews comprised the majority of Atlanta’s Jewish population. This demographic shift is also typical, but it threw me for a loop: for a population created by immigration, when does the “immigrant experience” end? This is a question that I’ve never seen engaged in the scholarly literature (though perhaps I’ve missed it), and it seems absolutely central to anyone thinking categorically about immigrant communities.

My other hoped-for goal was to include as many events and themes as I could that denoted the “southernness” of Atlanta’s Jewish community. But again, the story got complicated soon enough. Much has been written about American Jewish attitudes toward slavery and Jewish slaveownership. But Jews owned slaves in the North, too, until those states passed manumission laws; and Jewish attitudes toward slavery – both for and against – varied within the sections. Jewish involvement in local Confederate civic and military efforts during the Civil War: that’s an easy one. Was there anything particularly southern about the world of Jewish work in Atlanta? Their occupational distribution looks nothing like that of New York, Chicago, or Philadelphia, which were all manufacturing centers and sites of robust Jewish immigrant involvement in the needle trades. In Atlanta, Jewish breadwinners were far more likely to be petty entrepreneurs and small-scale merchants than anything else. But one would find that in any American city or town without a strong manufacturing sector. So what was southern here, exactly?

Jim Crow, certainly. Of course, racial segregation was not limited to the South in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. But white supremacy was the organizing principle of every aspect of life in this city. Jewish responses to it, and the ways in which they were subjected to southern racial ideologies, shaped their history. The trial and lynching of Leo Frank is the most obvious example, but there are others. For instance, central European Jews who had been in the country for decades responded to the turn-of-the-century influx of eastern European Jewish immigrants in ways that betrayed profound racial anxiety: would these newcomers be seen as white enough to gain acceptance by Atlanta’s white mainstream? Another example, decades later: the bombing of The Temple in 1958 by a militant States Rights organization that accused the city’s Jews of “leading the fight to destroy segregation in Atlanta schools” and “promoting mongrelization.”[ii] In each case, the regional context, so profoundly defined by Jim Crow, suggests that there is something distinctively southern about Atlanta’s Jewish history.

In the end, my list failed to speak to “southernness” or “immigrant community” in any absolute way. I sent it in to Mr. Frilingos, and I look forward to being a part of the continuing conversation about the exhibit. But this exercise reminded me that when we think and write about southern immigration, we must question the meaning and use of our analytic categories. It’s not enough to say that immigrant communities have settled and flourished or struggled in the South; we have to ask ourselves why it matters, and what these community histories can tell us about southern and American history more broadly.

[i] Source: Steven Hertzberg, Strangers in the Gate City: The Jews of Atlanta, 1845-1915 (JPSA, 1978): 233, 241

[ii] Source: “Jews Behind Race Mixing,” http://www.southernspaces.org/2009/counterblast-how-atlanta-temple-bombing-strengthened-civil-rights-cause, accessed 8/22/2014

Researching Greeks in Richmond

Although sizable numbers of Greeks have immigrated to the U.S. South, very little has been written about these communities, especially where I live—Richmond, Virginia.  Historian Lazar “Larry” Odzak’s “Demetrios is Now Jimmy” Greek Immigration in the Southern United States, 1895-1965 (2006) is the “go-to” text on the region; a few articles can also be found through the Modern Greek Studies Association’s website and the Journal of Modern Greek Studies.  Thus, with very few secondary sources to work with, I have turned mostly to primary sources to learn about the Greek experience in my hometown.

One of the most valuable sources for studying Greek immigration in Richmond is the Library of Virginia.  The Library provides free access to Ancestry.com, which has not only digitized the U.S. Census, but also has made it searchable.  I also used city directories, many of which were on microfilm. Finally, the Library’s collection of maps helped me gather information on where people worked and lived. Together, these sources provided a multifaceted way to answer some (although not all) of my research questions: Where did Greek immigrants live in Richmond? Was there an ethnic enclave?  Did they own their home or rent? Who were their family members? Did they have jobs? If so, what kind of jobs and where did they work?  Were they able to read and write? When did they immigrate?  Did they naturalize and, if so, when?

I must admit that getting to this information meant venturing into uncharted waters. While I have acquired some research skills from my BA and MA programs, I admit we did not receive any training on research methods outside the use of the familiar online databases in the university library. For this reason, I offer this advice to fellow graduate students in a similar position—reach out to a librarian or archivist wherever you go to research! With the help and enthusiasm of professionals from several Richmond libraries, archives, and historical societies, I found more than I could imagine on my topic. I even had one librarian tell me “I wish more people used us as a resource, I guess they are just scared.” Librarians were also the ones who taught me how to utilize “old school” research equipment like the microfiche reader (pictured below), an audio tape player (which I’ve used before, but it’s been a while), and how to load microfilm reels correctly.

microfreader

Microfilm Reader

Another valuable source for researching Greek immigrants is to seek out the local Greek Orthodox Church. If records are available, they can provide a lot of valuable information. Churches usually maintain records of baptisms, marriages, and funerals, and can tell a researcher a lot about a family.  This information is especially important if you are looking for immigrants who had children, got married, or died in Virginia between 1897-1911; the State of Virginia did not maintain vital records during this 14-year period. Church bulletins and records from men’s and women’s societies, youth groups, and charity organizations provide additional insight into the community and its interaction with outsiders.  Changes in a particular group’s missions and activities are also a way to measure acculturation. For instance, Richmond’s Philoptochos Women’s Society originated in 1918 as a way for Greek immigrant women to fundraise for their new church and to help fellow Greek immigrants in need. By the 1950s, the organization focused its charitable efforts on raising money for non-religious, local institutions such as Children’s Hospital. The shift in Philoptochos’s activities points to changes in Richmond’s Greek community and its relationships with the outside community.

churchrecords

Church Records

There is also a possibility that oral history projects already exist for the particular group you’re interested in. In my opinion, oral histories are the least utilized resources in our field. In the 1980s, a scholarly movement towards “history from below” prompted widespread interest in oral history. For this reason, countless interviews were collected across the country, including the voices of immigrants. Despite the perceived obscurity of my subject, I found an oral history collection from the 1980s on audiocassettes and twenty-one interviews with Greeks in Richmond at Virginia Commonwealth University’s Special Collections. The interviews were not transcribed, so I spent countless hours listening to the tapes. In the end, these interviews served as the most important sources in my study.

oralhistorytapes

Interview tapes and player

For scholars studying immigration in the twentieth century, it is likely that there are members of the particular immigrant group still living whom you can interview. Providing the immigrant’s voice to your analysis will give additional insights that are otherwise lost in other types of sources. To prepare for collecting oral histories, I highly recommend using Valerie Raliegh Yow’s Recording Oral History: A Guide for the Humanities and Social Sciences. Yow’s text is full of helpful advice for collecting oral history interviews, templates for interview questions, and permission slips.

If you are studying a local group, finding subjects is much easier. Since I am a member of the Greek community in Richmond, I was able to turn to people in my community for possible subjects. However, if you do not have this advantage, I suggest contacting a prominent member of the group—a pastor or other type of religious leader. I learned from Valerie Yow and from my own experiences that, once you find one individual to speak with you in a community, you should ask them to recommend other people to interview.

Immigrants Brought the Flavor

Here’s a link to a recent New York Times article that examines the immigrant provenance of a Mississippi food tradition. According to the piece, “Comeback Sauce” (a spicier and more flavorful variant of Thousand Island dressing) originally appeared in Jackson, Mississippi’s Greek-owned restaurants in the early 1900s. “By midcentury, most of this city’s mainstay restaurants were owned by Greek families,” the reporter claims. We never learn if the sauce has any culinary relationship to Greek cuisine, but other sources – especially Adallis’ Greek Merchants’ Guide, published during the 1910s – show how plentiful Greek immigrant restaurateurs (and employees) were throughout the Southeast.  And the Southern Foodways Alliance recently embarked on an oral history project documenting the Greek-owned restaurant networks of Birmingham, Alabama.

So much of the study of the American “Global South” skips over the era of mass migration at the turn of the century. As a result, studies of southern foodways too often ignore the role that early twentieth century immigrants played in the region’s culinary tastes and traditions.  Studying food culture in a more systematic and sustained way will help scholars and foodies alike better understand the region’s complexity and the role that immigrants have played in southern life.