Trump’s “Undesirable” Muslims of Today Were Yesteryear’s Greeks: “Pure American. No Rats, No Greeks”


There are some things you might not know about Greek immigration to the United States. This history becomes particularly relevant when watching today’s news and political candidates like Donald Trump, supported by huge and vociferous crowds, call for the complete ban of people from entering the United States based on their race or religion.

This is nothing new. In fact– today’s “undesirable” Muslims (in Donald Trump’s eyes), were yesteryear’s Greeks.

It’s a forgotten history— something that only occasionally comes up by organizations like AHEPA or the occasional historian or sociologist. In fact, many Greek Americans are guilty of not only perpetuating— but also creating— myths of our ancestors coming to this country and being welcomed with open arms.

A look back at history will prove that this usually wasn’t the case for the early Greek immigrants to the United States. Greeks, their race and religion, were seen as “strange” and “dangerous” to America and after decades of open discrimination, Greeks were finally barred— by law— from entering the United States in large numbers.

A political cartoon from the early 1900s

A political cartoon from the early 1900s

The Immigration Act of 1924 imposed harsh restrictions on Greeks and other non-western European immigrant groups. Under that law, only one hundred Greeks per year were allowed entry into the United States as new immigrants.

Much like today, when politicians and activists like Donald Trump use language against a particular ethnic group— like his call to ban all Muslims from entering the United States, the same was the case a hundred years ago. Except then, Greeks were one of the main targets.

There was a strong, loud and active “nativist” movement that was led by people who believed they were the “true Americans” and the immigrants arriving— mainly Greeks, Italians, Chinese and others who were deemed “different” and even “dangerous” to American ideals, were unfit to come to America.

As early as 1894 a group of men from Harvard University founded the Immigration Restriction League (IRL), proponents of a United States that should be populated with “British, German and Scandinavian stock” and not by “inferior races.” Their biggest targets were Greeks and Italians and the group had a powerful influence with the general public and leaders in the U.S. government in their efforts to keep “undesirables” out of America.

America, the "unrestricted dumping ground" which depicted Greeks and other Eastern Europeans as animals.

America, the “unrestricted dumping ground” which depicted Greeks and other Eastern Europeans as animals.

The well-known cartoon “The Fool Pied Piper” by Samuel Erhart appeared in 1909 portraying Uncle Sam as the Pied Piper playing a pipe labeled “Lax Immigration Laws” and leading a horde of rats labeled “Jail Bird, Murderer, Thief, Criminal, Crook, Kidnapper, Incendiary, Assassin, Convict, Bandit, Fire Brand, White Slaver, and Degenerate” toward America. Some rats carry signs that read “Black Hand,” referring to the Italian Mafia. In the background, rulers from France, Russia, Germany, Italy, Austria-Hungary, Turkey and Greece celebrate the departure of the fleeing rats.


At the beginning of the 1900s tens of thousands of Greek immigrant men began arriving in the United States, fleeing famine and war back home. The 1897 Balkan Wars were especially brutal and tens of thousands of Greek men headed for safer and more prosperous shores. Between 1900 and 1920, according to official U.S. government records, more than 350,000 Greeks immigrated to the United States— 95 percent of the immigrants were men.

In his epic research and meticulous writing, the late Charles Moskos noted in his book “Greek Americans: Struggles and Success” that from 1900 to 1915 close to one out of four men in Greece departed for America. That’s almost 25 per cent of the entire male population of the country.


Greek men arriving at Ellis Island in 1911

Greeks scattered throughout the United States. Many settled in mill towns like Lowell, Massachusetts while others went west, taking hard jobs in coal, copper and salt mines. Tens of thousands also settled in Chicago and other Midwest urban centers.

Chicago Greeks arriving during this wave started selling food from pushcarts and lunch wagons in the busy city streets. The Greeks were met with fierce resistance and discrimination— even at an official level. Under the administration of Mayor Carter H. Harrison II, bowing to pressure from “native” Americans, the city passed an ordinance targeted 100% against the Greek food merchants, prohibiting the sale of food on the streets and effectively shutting down thousands of small Greek-immigrant-run businesses.

In South Omaha, Nebraska in February 1909— three thousand Greek families fled their homes in that city’s Greektown neighborhood after an organized community-wide effort to burn down Greek homes and businesses engulfed the city.


A Greek man was arrested and involved in a deadly altercation with a “white” police officer. His charge— being in the company of a “white” woman who was teaching him English. The destruction that followed— tens of millions of dollars in damage to property— and an entire ethnic community banished— disappeared, fleeing for their lives overnight— has gone down as one of the ugliest racist and discriminatory incidents in all of American history.

The New York Times carried an article about the riot stating that 3,000 “American” men looted Greek homes and businesses, beat Greek men, women and children, and burnt down every building in the area. The entire population of Greeks in South Omaha were warned to leave the city within one day, or risk the ongoing wrath of the mob. Within a few days, all the Greeks living in South Omaha fled the city, moving to Council Bluffs, Sioux City and Salt Lake City.


The Omaha Daily News, justifying the exodus of the Greeks wrote, “Their quarters have been unsanitary; they have insulted women… Herded together in lodging houses and living cheaply, Greeks are a menace to the American laboring man.”

“Pure American. No Rats, No Greeks”

In the west, numerous restaurants owned by native born Americans posted signs in their windows that said ‘Operated by an American” or “Pure American. No Rats, No Greeks.”

In places such as Idaho, Greeks could not live in certain neighborhoods and were restricted from using public parks.

In 1909, the Rhode Island legislature debated a bill that would have banned non-citizens from fishing for lobsters. It was aimed at Greeks by “native” locals who felt Greeks were crowding native Americans out of a profitable trade and gaining too much control over the industry in the region.

In 1911, a Greek immigrant who hauled trash from various restaurants was warned to “get out of the garbage business or we will kill all of you Greeks.”


A violent uprising took place against Greek lumberman in Grays Harbor, Washington in 1912 where hundreds of Greeks were forcibly expelled from the town by boat and train.

Violent uprisings— often led by the U.S. military and national guard also took place in mining towns like Bingham, Utah and of course, Ludlow, Colorado, where newly naturalized community activist Louis Tikas was gunned down by a member of the U.S. National Guard during what has been called the “Ludlow Massacre”.


These incidents were fueled by anti-immigrant, anti-foreigner elements that were prevalent in America at the time.

In 1916, a Phoenix, Arizona labor journal accused Greek businesses of imperiling the future of local merchants, informing readers that Greeks “are a menace to YOU!”

Official movements by citizen groups and the government were bolstered by openly racist groups like the Ku Klux Klan, which specifically targeted Greeks, amongst the numerous other “undesirable” groups, including African Americans, Jews and Catholics.

But as the story goes— despite this open discrimination, racial antagonism and even an entire government mechanism working against this community, the Greeks in this country prospered, organized and became an active and vibrant part of its fabric.

A look at calls for closed borders today by politicians and activists— and complete bans on certain groups entering the nation based on race, nationality or religion, are nothing new. In fact, they’re a big part of American history. Fortunately, though, we have the mistakes of the past to draw on so that we don’t repeat these same mistakes in the future.



  1. Vetta Kelepouris Bailey on

    I have heard of all this from old Greeks here in Kansas City, Missouri, which had a huge Greek population because of the stock yards and the railroad-Many moved out of the city after the flood of the 1950’s. They were not allowed to go into the barber shops, and they were called Degos, like the Italians. Also, much of the government imposing Greeks coming into the country was because of the Greek Communist Parties in Greece. We came to the US in 1969- it was a very long process to get approved and I remember all the questions about being or not being a communist

  2. The key word is that they became part of the social fabric rolled with the punches and earned there place, these new immigrants predominately from Muslim lands do not roll with punches they come fighting, demanding, trying to usurp power…even the Greeks never took up arms and subterfuge against the Americans, unlike the fake jihadists ( fake cause they couldn’t give a crap what’s going on oversees they just want a reason) also the first American hysteria against immigrants can be forgives we were the first wave, this current hysteria against Muslims is not unfounded but well documented…article is nice a a history lesson but not the same with what’s going on today

    • Right because ALL the Muslims come here and tke up arms…….keep listening to Trump and his hatred and not relising he would do the same things to GREEKS today in a heartbeat

      • Despoina, do you really believe that Trump “would do the same things to GREEKS today in a heartbeat”? Why would he do that? Are Greeks massacring their fellow citizens? Are Greeks setting the world on fire, beheading Christians, Yazidis, and selling children into sex slavery for 10 cents? Be sensible. The article overall is excellent but comparing Greeks to Muslim terrorists is a leftist trope that is irrational and even ignorant.

    • But the truth is that many of the South and East European immigrants were communists, anarchists, mafiosi, etc. They DID engage in violence, corruption, vagrancy when they arrived. Sometimes because of oppression and alienation they encountered- but they also brought it with them.

      There is literally no difference between painting all Muslim and or Arab with the same brush. To ignore this is to be the definition of a bigot.

  3. Stephen R. Cusulos on

    GREGORY PAPPA I think more historical research needs to be done at the local and regional level regarding the Greek experience. What happened in South Omaha does not seem to have been the case for South Dakota, North Dakota Iowa and Minnesota. The KKK was not strong in the Upper-Midwest. Stephen Cusulos

  4. Pingback: Trump’s “Undesirable” Muslims of Today Were Yesteryear’s Greeks: “Pure American. No Rats, No Greeks” – The Pappas Post – HetPodium

  5. Thanks for the history lesson. How exactly does this compare to what’s happening in the world right now? The Greeks came with bombs strapped to themselves? Ridiculous to even compare.

    • Really? Because all Muslim refugees come with bombs strapped on themselves? Way to generalize a whole ethnicity……pretty much the same way the Greeks were generalised in this article

      • Once again, Despoina, you make an argument of moral equivalence. What I have learned about people like yourself is that you can never bring yourselves to condemn Muslim terrorists, only those who condemn Muslim terrorists. For you, the real enemy is not Muslims but Christians or conservatives. All Muslims are good and all conservatives are evil in your ideological framework. Is that correct? Or do you condemn Muslim terrorism unequivocally without blame-shifting to our policies or racism or the Crusades or global warming as Bernie Sanders does?

        • Are you kidding me? Was there fear of terrorism associated to the Greeks coming in at that time? No. Dont come down on me honey, take a close look at who the real enemy is. So go ahead, join hands and sing to acceptance and love…they will be on the sidelines aiming to kill.

  6. Did the Greeks blow anything up, i don’t think so, whatever they were asked do they did.
    try that these days with the Muslims.

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  8. Growing up in Chicago ,1930 to1945, (age 1- 15)with both parents immigrants from Greece,I lived through much of the”Anglo-Saxon.” Bias/ prejudice towards Mediterranen people, including. Myself,especially during WW 2 .the Italians suffered most.The Greek immigrants worked hard, opened businesses, sent us to schools for higher education,etc. The rich history of Greece and their contributions to society deserved better than those biased attitudes.

  9. Such a bs comparison and twisting of the facts. Radical Islam is a political ideology – mission is to convert non believers or eradicate them. All the races Immigrating to this country were treated like dirt – chineese, Irish Italians etc. all trump is saying is put a temporary ban on non us citizens who are Muslim until our law makers figure out how to deal w the problem. Would it surprise you to know the real target in san bernandino were two high schools – 5000. Kids. This enemy is smart – they are doctors, engineers chemists they communicate in encrypted code our law enf cannot crack. Information coming out that the marriage was a front. Imagine a biological or chemical attack which is imminent. What trump is saying makes logical sense

  10. John karamanos on

    Btw – great article on the Greeks. Hate the BS comparison of trying to connect trump to it. Ahepa was instrumental in helping the African American community in their fight for equal rights. Ahepa took on and beat the Kali klux clan and the Greeks were the first ethnic immigrants to come to the aid of the African Americans

  11. It is unfortunate that this happened to Greek immigrants. Honestly, it happened to Italians, Irish and practically every immigrant group. The issue with Muslims is because they ascribe to Sharia Law which to them supersedes the Constitution. Islam is not only a religion; it is also a political ideology which governs all aspects of Muslim life. Islamic republics have “elected” presidents’, but they take their orders from the religious Mullahs. THAT is the problem – they believe Sharia Law should take precedence over our Constitution and every Muslim’s duty is to spread Islam by Jihad – by force if necessary. They cannon come to America and be loyal to the Constitution AND Sharia Law. The two are diametrically opposed ideologies and cannot co-exist. Discrimination against the Greeks and others was about economic issues (jobs) but this is different. Their aim is to put America under Sharia Law which is a freedom killer.

  12. your analysis is very poor……if you do not like trump that’s your business, but do not try to blend in legitimate racism with today’s events….ashamed of you, will discontinue reading and following your page

  13. Pingback: Just How Greek is Astoria? This Map Says it All - The Pappas Post

  14. Come on! Comparing matters pertaining to Greek and Italian immigrants of yesteryear to today’s Middle Eastern, Muslim immigrants, who mainly come to our shores absent of proper documentation, or vetting (or apparent desire to emulate and embrace mainstream American culture) to ensure that there aren’t individuals among them with intent to do harm, act according to numerous jihads declared against America, is comparing apples to oranges.

    Why not be forthright about your disagreement with and dislike of Donald Trump, rather than attempt to manipulate truth, and in process, damage your credibility?

    • Gregory Pappas on

      Tasos– Please let me know where the “manipulation of the truth” is…? PS… if you know anything about Greek and/or Italian immigration to the United States, you will know that these immigrants were considered dangerous to the American way of life. There were laws enacted against them throughout the nation and the National Guard even came in during strikes because their actions were called “un-American”.

  15. There was a point in our American History where Greeks, Italians and Jews were not let into the Country, very true. In a country that was heavily Protestant and just received millions of immigrants at the turn of the century, I believe that Americans were ill prepared to receive those immigrants but made the best with what they had and honored the new Americans by assimilating these peoples into society.

    What this has to do with modern day and Muslims? Already we see that there are some undesirable ideology that is being tucked in between the good Muslims and that is a major cause for concern. Such was also with the Italians where we know very well what happened when a few very criminal people tucked themselves between good Italians that were seeking a better life.

    Americans keeping the Greeks, Italians and Jews out of our county at that time was very important to stop any further undesirables from entering the Country. But unlike Italians and Jews, Greeks did not form any criminal organization or cause civil unrest in any way. We were more concerned with keeping our family values and our religion intact. Greeks can be funny people but to say we were criminal is not true and to say we were dangerous to this country is also not true.

  16. I respectfully disagree. One of the most important factors left out, was the Greek immigrants were Christians ☦️

    The USA is/was founded on Christian/Judeo faith principles by the Christian Founding father of this nation.
    Muslims come from the false prophet and are the antiChrist. Look up your scriptures.
    Don’t misrepresent this absolute truth.
    Because the Muslim Turks forced the Greeks to come as they were under ottoman occupation for 500 years.

  17. Sharia law has less to do with Islam and more to do with anachronistic and paternalistic societies that are deemed behind the times by critics in the so called civilized countries of the world. In the absence of assimilation into cities and with multiple generations remaining in the same areas for a prolonged period of time an eye for an eye and laws like Hammurabi’s would be the norm. As Christians if we truly beleive that one who does not accept christ will be relegated to hell for all eternity,wouldn’t we be doing them a favor by forcibly converting them? We have shown a penchant for false flag attacks…democrats who are actually neocon war mongers in disguise could be using open borders as a ruse to explain away the next “attack” coming our way. We allow monarchies to commit civil rights atrocities to their own populace and overthrow democratically elected leaders from countries that won’t play ball. There is plenty of room in Jordan and Saudi Arabia to house most who are fleeing Syria (the only ones fleeing now will bee the remainder of the fighting force we assembled still remaining in Aleppo. 200k left in ISIS and Al Nusra controlled areas 1.5 mil in government controlled areas. Trump is right allowing them in without having a clue who the heck they are is setting us up for the next stage of the cabal master plan for all of us. The founding fathers were freemasons by the way and set up a a country based on the separation of church and state. If you’re going to mention judo Christian values you may want to know that Islam is an Abrahamic religion as well. Lastly the false prophet will arrive at the time of the anti christ. He is the false prophet spoken of in revalations I thought. In mind mind equating Jesus as a prophet rather than son of god,which leaves it up to interpretation as to what is meant by that term makes more sense to me. We were supposed to be monotheistic but have strayed from that in many ways . The holy trinity is an entirely man made creation based on select passages in the bible.

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