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The Omaha Anti-Greek Riot

The stories are rarely told, but in times past, many Orthodox Christians from the Mediterranean and Eastern Europe have been subject to bigotry and violence because of their ethnic background, their foreign accents, and the color of their skin. One example of this mistreatment is the anti-Greek riot in South Omaha, Nebraska, in 1909.

Greeks first arrived in South Omaha in 1904, brought in as strikebreakers in the local meat-packing industry. This was a time when many white Americans were already biased against immigrants, not only because they were foreign but also because they were viewed as threats to "American" jobs. So the Greeks in South Omaha had two strikes against them from the outset. Despite this, they settled in, and by 1907, over 2,000 Greeks were reportedly living in the city. It wasn’t long before they built a church, dedicated to St. John the Baptist. Everything was fairly calm until 1909.

On February 19, 1909, a Greek worker named John Masourides shot and killed a respected police officer. For many residents of South Omaha, this was the last straw: as far as they were concerned, the Greeks had to go.

Two days after the shooting, a petition was circulated calling for a mass meeting to decide how to “rid the city of the undesirable Greeks." The petition said, "The so-called quarters of the Greeks are infested by a vile bunch of filthy Greeks who have attacked our women, insulted pedestrians upon the street, openly maintained gambling dens and many other forms of viciousness."

At the close of the meeting, a mob descended on the Greek quarter. They attacked the Greeks, rioted, and destroyed pretty much the entire Greek neighborhood. With neither homes nor safety, the Greeks fled the city. The governor called in the National Guard. Eventually, order was restored, but the bigots of South Omaha had accomplished their goal: the Greeks were gone, and most of them would never return. The mass exodus almost wiped out the parish of St. John the Baptist.

As if all that wasn’t enough, a year later, the police themselves took revenge by lynching a young Greek named Nicholas Jimikas. He is buried in an unmarked grave in Omaha’s Fort Lawn Cemetery. Masourides, the Greek man whose shooting of a policeman sparked the riots, was initially convicted of first-degree murder, and sentenced to death. He appealed to the Nebraska Supreme Court, which reversed the decision. In the end, Masourides was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to fourteen years in prison, but less than halfway through that sentence, he was furloughed by the governor and then deported.

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