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Toward an "Immigrant Turn" in Jewish Entrepreneurial History: A View from the New South.

I.J. Schwartz's Yiddish epic poem Kentoki (1925) depicts the Jewish immigrant experience in a setting atypical of its genre. Joshua, Schwartz's protagonist, is a Jewish peddler who wanders into a Kentucky town--one that's never named, but considering Schwartz's biography, is likely Lexington. He is tolerated, and sometimes welcomed, by his native-born customers--they even start to call him "Josh," a thoroughly American name. He establishes a scrapyard enterprise. He purchases property, which makes him feel "as if he had taken root deep in the earth." A wave of Lithuanian Jewish immigrant peddlers joins him, eventually enough to form a minyan, the quorum of ten men required for communal prayer. As their town grows, so do their businesses, and soon they are able to purchase a former Protestant church, vacated by whites who had abandoned the neighborhood to African Americans and Jews. (1)

Kentoki is a searing portrayal of the pressures upon a Jewish minority in a thoroughly Christian environment; of generational conflict, as the children of Jewish immigrants become southern; of black-Jewish relations, and the terrifying brutality of white supremacy. But Schwartz's poem also illustrates the importance of small business ownership to the process of Jewish immigrant acculturation in the urban South. First as a peddler, and then as "a shopkeeper among the local farmers, black and white," as Hasia Diner has written, commerce offered Jewish peddlers like Schwartz's entry to southern life. (2)

But when Schwartz describes the local commercial district, we learn that Jews are not the only immigrant businessmen in Joshua's Lexington:
   An Irishman opened a tavern at the corner,
   And nights became festive
   With lively shouts and banjo tunes ...
   A shrewd Greek opened
   A smelly restaurant; an Italian
   Displayed the finest greens and fruit;
   And Lee Hu-Tchung, with long stiff braids,
   In a black blouse with tassels,
   Installed himself in the white window

   And day and night he stood with a small iron,
   Pressing linens. (3)

Did these men also anchor their communities, like Joshua did? Did their families struggle to maintain continuity with their old ways as they became more southern? How did they respond to Jim Crow? One wishes for the Greek, Italian, or Cantonese version of Schwartz's poem, portraying the experiences of this diverse collection of immigrant entrepreneurs and suggesting how they paralleled or diverged from one another.

The ethnically heterogeneous business district described by Schwartz was familiar to American southerners in the early twentieth century. Though most historians of the New South ignore the presence of immigrants in the region, some, like Blaine Brownell, have claimed that "the impact of foreign born groups," especially in southern cities, "was often greater than their numbers suggested." (4) Their economic activities, especially as proprietors of small retail and service businesses, magnified their impact on the urban South.

When historians do investigate immigrant entrepreneurship in the New South, they generally center their attention on Ashkenazi Jews, to the exclusion of other immigrant merchants. (5) This historiographie focus is partly a function of proportion: the majority of the South's foreign-born merchants were Jews from Central and Eastern Europe. A small but visible minority in every southern state, Jewish peddlers and shopkeepers were so frequently encountered throughout the region that some observers overstated their commercial ubiquity. "It is said, 'If there is a Jewish holiday, you cannot buy a pair of socks in this whole country,'" reported social scientist John Dollard of Depression-era Mississippi. This perception "illustrates how complete the control of retail dry-goods trade by Jews is supposed to be." (6)

Whether the majority of the South's foreign-born merchants were in fact Jewish, or their visibility as a commercially-oriented minority only made them seem omnipresent, it is certainly true that Jewish immigrants who settled in the South overwhelmingly made their living in the commercial sector. In a heavily agricultural region with limited employment opportunity in industrial manufacturing, as was the case in the South before World War II, self-employment was one of few options available to the region's newcomers. Petty trade offered a low-cost point of entry to the local economy, providing a chance at upward mobility and financial stability. Scholars who study southern Jewish history have recognized immigrant entrepreneurship--foreign-born residents who establish a business as a means of economic survival, often with the help of a network of common origin--as a crucial framework for both understanding regional processes of Jewish acculturation, and comparing the Jewish experience in the American South to other sites of Jewish settlement in the United States and elsewhere. (7)

As the scene set in I.J. Schwartz's poem suggests, however, immigrants from the eastern Mediterranean, the Ottoman Levant, and Asia also made a living in southern cities and towns, and integrated into their local economies, through petty commerce. Like their Ashkenazi immigrant neighbors, they clustered in particular commodity or service niches, creating networks of employment and capital that facilitated chain migration. In commercially open spaces, where retail opportunities were plentiful at a range of levels, they were able to experience what Jonathan Gold, the Pulitzer-prizewinning observer of immigrant-owned restaurants in Los Angeles, called the "miracle of entry-level capitalism." (8) In an early scholarly investigation of southern Jewish entrepreneurs, Stephen J. Whitfield asserted that southern Jewish merchants "helped cultivate a taste for products of the modern world" in a part of the country "locked into agrarian habits of mind and conduct." (9) It stands to reason that Greek restaurateurs, Italian fruit stand men, and Chinese laundrymen, as well as Syrian peddlers and Armenian furniture dealers, also shaped southern processes of urbanization. Communities of immigrant entrepreneurs, whatever their religious faith or national origin, helped to create and expand southern towns and cities. They provided local residents with novel consumer goods, as well as a sense of the wider world beyond their relatively provincial environment. All immigrant entrepreneurs, regardless of the size of their community or the scope of their enterprise, should be counted as among the new men (and women) in the new cities of the New South.

This essay examines the experiences and contributions of immigrant entrepreneurs, and especially foreign-born retail businessmen, in Atlanta, Georgia, between 1900 and 1930. During these decades, Atlanta was one of dozens of southern cities where new immigrant communities gathered and flourished; though these communities were small, they played an important role in the development of the urban South. Their communities, and their commercial enterprises, were shaped by their relatively small numbers, as well as by the pressures imposed by the Jim Crow system of racial oppression and marginalization.

When we recognize the history of Jewish commerce in the American South within a broader immigrant context, foregrounding these immigrants' shared setting and similar trajectories, we find that Jews were not entirely distinctive in their motivations and decisions, or in the external factors that propelled them toward commercial endeavors. While this essay will take each community's distinctive cultures and experiences into account--as must any sensitive comparison between ethnic groups--it will also suggest that if we look beyond the southern Jewish experience, expanding our analysis to other immigrant groups who came to the region at the same time, we might discern patterns that can be applied more widely.

Atlanta's Immigrant Entrepreneurs: New Americans in a New South City

In the late 1880s, Henry Grady--editor of the Constitution, Atlanta's establishment newspaper--regaled audiences of elite northerners with his vision of a "New South." While the Old South had "rested everything on slavery and agriculture," he claimed, the New South would offer "diverse industry that meets the complex needs of this complex age." He espoused a movement toward economic and industrial modernization, connecting the former Confederacy to the North by railroads networks, commercial ties, and shared patriotic sentiment. (10)

Atlanta served as exemplar of the New South's modern economic aspirations. Founded as a railroad hub in the 1840s and wrecked during Sherman's March to the Sea, Atlanta was rebuilt and expanded during Reconstruction. Having already successfully lobbied to capture the title of state capitol in 1868, city leaders with an eye toward regional prominence sought to ensure Atlanta's centrality to the southern economy by extending its rail connections even further. Atlanta's reputation for commercial dynamism and entrepreneurial prowess was amplified by relentless self-promotion by its business and political elite, who believed that explosive economic growth was good for all Atlantans. By 1900, the city was a regional leader in commercial development, connecting agricultural commodity wholesalers to rural producers, and distributing manufactured products to far-flung regional retailers from the eastern seaboard to the Mississippi River. It had become, as described by Howard N. Rabinowitz, "the archetype of the New South ... A leading market for upper Georgia and the major distribution point for Western products, Atlanta was also a financial, commercial, administrative and light-manufacturing center." (11)

Though Grady's hope that Atlanta could become an industrial powerhouse never materialized, the city had established a solid foundation in the manufacture of consumer goods, such as food products, patent medicines, and furniture, as well as a substantial niche in printed materials and office supplies. Railroad expansion had enabled these manufacturers, as well as wholesale merchants, to move their products hundreds of miles in any direction, supplying smaller stores as far away as Asheville and Montgomery. Meanwhile, thousands of small retail businesses made goods and services available to a steadily growing number of eager customers. (12)

Foreign-born entrepreneurs of Northern, Western, and Central European origin who settled in the antebellum South took up small business ownership throughout the region. They were a significant presence in Atlanta's commercial sector since the 1850s, and some grew their businesses into substantial enterprises, particularly as wholesalers of groceries and dry goods. By the end of Reconstruction, Jewish immigrants from the Germanic states were prominent among these entrepreneurs, achieving positions of civic leadership and holding elected positions in municipal politics. According to one historical study, German, Irish, and English immigrants constituted 16.7% of the city's economic elite at the end of the century, even though less than 3% of the municipal population had been born abroad. (13)

These immigrants' ability to move upward in the South can be attributed, at least in part, to their categorization as white; the absolute division of southern culture by race lessened native-born white southerners' antipathy toward foreigners, as long as they fit neatly enough on the white side of the black/white divide. Historians of the American South have suggested that African Americans acted as "surrogate immigrants" by being relegated to the lowest position in the region's socioeconomic hierarchy. The subjection of southern blacks elevated groups who might otherwise have been discriminated against, "allowing foreigners to rise at relatively the same rate as native whites." For Europeans who came to Atlanta in the nineteenth century, occupational and economic mobility was thus not only accessible, but likely. (14)

Within a few decades, and in keeping with national trends, immigrants from England, Ireland, and German-speaking central Europe were no longer the majority of Atlanta's foreign-born population. Between 1900 and 1930, as a combined result of fewer new arrivals from those areas, as well as the aging of the longtime foreign-born population, the total number of immigrants of the previous wave living in Atlanta dwindled. In the first decades of the twentieth century, Atlanta's growing immigrant communities hailed from new points of origin: Eastern and Southern Europe; and the Mediterranean Levant.

Eastern European Jews comprised the largest of these groups. This stream of immigration had carried fewer than half a dozen individuals to Atlanta by 1880; in 1930, at nearly 1,700 men, women, and children, they were three times the size of any other local immigrant contingent. (15) The number of Greek immigrants in Atlanta had also grown significantly, from 44 in 1900 to 453 in 1930. Most of Atlanta's Greeks came from the Peloponnese peninsula in southern Greece, and were drawn to the city by chain migration; young men who had already come to Atlanta in search of economic betterment, once settled, brought over other young men from their families or villages. (16) An additional dozen ethnic Greeks hailed from Ottoman Turkey, as did several dozen Armenians and Sephardic Jews from Istanbul, Izmir, Bodrum, and Palestine. (17) The city's 357 Italians included immigrants from northern Italy, many of whom had been in Atlanta since the 1890s; more recent arrivals from southern Italy; and Sephardic Jews from the Isle of Rhodes, which Italy had seized from Turkey in 19 u. (18) Most recently, Catholics and eastern-rite Orthodox from Ottoman Syria (which included modern-day Lebanon until the dismantling of the Ottoman Empire after World War I) had begun migrating to the city. In 1930, the US census listed 143 Syrian nationals in Atlanta, while several dozen more Syrian-Lebanese claimed Turkey as their birthplace.

Individual immigrants from all of these points of origin arrived in Atlanta with meager resources, and sought economic stability and opportunity in their new home. While these newcomers integrated into all sectors of the local economy--as white-collar professionals, skilled artisans, and unskilled laborers--significant proportions of each of these groups made a living through independent retail and service entrepreneurship, to a degree far greater than their neighbors. In 1920, when 5.5% of native-born white male Atlantans worked as retail dealers, 26% of the city's foreign-born men were similarly employed. Immigrants also ran retail food services, as restaurant and cafe proprietors, in high proportions: of the city's 225 white men who owned restaurants and lunch rooms, sixty-eight, or 30.2%, were born abroad. (19)

Structures of Opportunity and Immigrant Entrepreneurial Niches

What drew all of these immigrants to take up small business ownership and self-employed commerce? Though their trajectories differed by group and by individual, they collectively came to this sector of Atlanta's economy through a combination of communal experience and community networks.

Historians of late nineteenth and early twentieth-century immigration will find few primary sources that rival the administrative paperwork immigrants filled out in the process of becoming American citizens. These rich troves of social-historical data provide abundant information about individual immigrants--when they emigrated and where from; where they had lived in the US, and their length of residency in the state; the ages and birthplaces of their spouses and children; their current occupation and residence; and more. But they do pose notable limitations. Naturalization records only tell us about immigrants who could apply for American citizenship. Married women are thus erased from this data set before 1922, since their citizenship followed their husband's status until the passage of the Cable Act. So are immigrants who were barred from naturalization, in keeping with federal law that only permitted immigrants who were "white" or of African descent to become citizens--though whiteness itself was an unstable designation, as will be discussed below. Further, immigrant groups oriented toward permanent settlement in the United States (such as Eastern European Jews) filed naturalization applications more frequently than those who sojourned between old and new countries (as Greeks were known to do); any aggregation of individual data therefore skews toward ethnic communities who were determined to stay.

Fortunately, other sources, such as census manuscripts and city directories, also provide occupational data. By cross-referencing these sources, we find that Eastern European Jewish immigrants in Atlanta were, as a group, decidedly mercantile in their economic pursuits. Of the 547 Eastern European Jews living in Atlanta who became American citizens between 1900 and 1930, and who listed a field of employment, (20) 135 (25%) declared "merchant" as their occupation. Another 128 (23%) ran food-related retail businesses, mostly keeping small groceries, but also as butchers, bakers, and soda vendors. Forty-two (8%) were proprietors of clothing shops, pharmacies, and general merchandise stores, and thirty-five naturalization applicants (6%) listed "peddler" as their occupation; perhaps some of the self-described "merchants" were also itinerant. In sum, for nearly two-thirds (63%) of Atlanta's newest Jewish citizens, independent entrepreneurship provided some portion of their path towards Americanization. (21)

Atlanta's city directories confirm eastern European Jews' presence in petty commerce, showing their prevalence in particular retail sectors. By 1930, Russian Jews ran nearly all of the pawnshops in the city, as well as the majority of second-hand clothing and furniture stores. They were also heavily represented among scrap, metal, and junk dealers. These "postconsumer" lines of commerce provided cultural continuity, since Jews had been prevalent in Europe's economy of second-hand goods for centuries. They also inserted Jewish immigrants into a growth sector of working-class urban life, where laborers exchanged their belongings for needed cash and purchased cheap goods. (22)

These occupational choices reflect a "fortuitous confluence of economic, demographic, and migratory factors" as Steven Hertzberg noted in his history of Atlanta's Jews. (23) Some of these factors conformed to past experience: Atlanta's Russian and Polish Jewish immigrants, like their landsmen all over the United States, gravitated toward retail entrepreneurship in part because their communities had experience in mercantile occupations back in Europe. They were more likely than native-born southerners (both white and black) to be literate and numerate, and to be accustomed to urban life--factors that gave them a competitive boost in a commercial environment. In addition, a significant number of Eastern European Jews arrived in Atlanta having already spent several years in other American cities and towns, perhaps learning American social practices as well as some English, and maybe accumulating capital along the way.

Jewish immigrants were also nudged toward retail entrepreneurship by structures of opportunity. As Atlanta's population grew, nearly quadrupling between 1890 and 1930, the customer base for clothing, household goods, and pantry items expanded accordingly. Groceries, apparel, and general merchandise shops were open entrepreneurial niches, and one could establish a small firm selling inexpensive goods at low cost. By the beginning of the twentieth century, fellow Jews who were already set up in these businesses--including central European Jews who had preceded them to Atlanta--could offer newcomers employment, mentorship, lines of credit, and entree to suppliers and customers. Local Jewish philanthropists established a Free Loan Association, which made small, no-interest business loans to new borrowers and allowed repayment in small increments. When a local branch of the Morris Plan Bank opened to provide low-interest small business loans to the general public, Leon Eplan, a pawnbroker and leader of the Russian Jewish community, was brought on to the executive staff to evaluate Jewish immigrants' loan applications. (24) Atlanta's Jewish entrepreneurs were also able to organize cooperative buying groups, such as the Associated Grocers Co-op, which was founded in 1929 by eight local Jewish grocers to collectively compete with larger chain grocery stores. (25)

A stream of new Jewish immigrants seeking an economic foothold of their own provided the means for their ethnic entrepreneurial niches to grow. At least until the Great Depression, Jewish immigrants who arrived in Atlanta would find that the demand for consumer goods, and cheap goods in particular, was not yet met by supply. Their access to ethnic economic networks, comprised of both well-established Atlanta Jews and newer Jewish immigrants, smoothed their entry into retail pursuits. Such was the progress of Barnet Merlin, one of several hundred eastern Europeans sent to Atlanta by the Industrial Removal Office (IRO), the Jewish aid agency that distributed new immigrants outside of the crowded cities of the northeast and Midwest. Merlin arrived in Atlanta in 1905; the following year, he reported to the IRO that at the end of his first few weeks in town, he was in debt and unemployed. But a local Jewish policeman helped him secure $30 in credit from a local wholesaler who provided peddlers with stock. After several months, he wrote, "I earned enough money to pay up all my debts," and was able to exchange his heavy pack for a horse and wagon. By 1911, when Merlin became a US citizen, he was married and a father, and owned a produce and meat shop in the city; ten years later, he was the proprietor of a wholesale grocery, living with his growing family in one of Atlanta's middle-class Jewish neighborhoods. (26)

But did this "fortuitous confluence of factors" and structures of opportunity that moved Eastern European Jewish immigrants toward small-business entrepreneurship in Atlanta differ from those of other immigrants arriving at the same time? At the turn of the century, Atlanta's Greek community lacked the extant local ethnic economic networks that so benefited Eastern European Jews. Yet naturalization records show their inclinations toward commerce, though of a category and domain that differed from their Jewish neighbors. Of the 204 foreign-born Atlantans of Greek ethnicity who applied for naturalization between 1900 and 1930, eighty-nine (44%) were engaged in food-related service, as proprietors of restaurants, delicatessens, soda fountains, and cafes, as well as producers and retailers of baked goods and ice cream. Another thirty (15%) were employed in Greek-owned establishments as waiters, cooks, and cashiers.

Though Jews and Greeks settled into divergent entrepreneurial niches, these businesspeople shared parallel routes toward economic stability and upward mobility. For emigrants from Greece, the decisive "push" was not persecution and economic marginalization, as for Russian Jews, but a stagnant agricultural economy at home. Most Greek immigrants came to the United States from rural regions, arriving stateside with little formal education. (27) But they did bring commercial experience to their new home, since many had been "market farmers" who sold food crops directly to consumers or retailers. Turkish-born ethnic Greeks proved an exception to this general rule; among the "middleman minorities" in Constantinople and Ankara, they brought familiarity with urban settings and commercial practices to America. (28)

Eastern European Jews began their entrepreneurial adventures as peddlers, often supported by previous waves of Jewish immigrants who had walked a similar path. A generation later, Greeks began to "ungreen" themselves in Atlanta's economy, and to create an initial support network for future Greek immigrant entrepreneurs, by establishing fruit stands. Briefly the bailiwick of the city's small Italian community, the first wave of new Greek arrivals dominated the fruit stand trade by the turn of the century, setting up kiosks along the crowded sidewalks of downtown's business district. Like peddling, fruit stands epitomized retail at the entry level, requiring minimal operating capital or facility with the local language. Atlanta's "banana men" paid the city a licensing fee, and storekeepers for space on the sidewalk and in their cellars for storage. Beyond that, their sole expense was their stock of produce, which they frequently purchased in bulk, sometimes cooperatively with other Greek fruit vendors--an informal version of the Jewish grocers' cooperative. Meanwhile, a Greek-run farm a hundred miles to the south of the city helped to supply Greek vendors with fruit and vegetables to sell, which helped keep the community's costs down. (29)

Eventually, Atlanta's Greeks were able to establish economic networks of their own. Like their eastern European Jewish neighbors, albeit several decades later, Greek immigrant entrepreneurs came to rely upon one another for employment and credit. "A Greek rarely ever fails in business," one Greek businessman told a local reporter. "If one of them finds that he cannot carry on his business profitably he reports the fact to the other Greeks, and they go to his financial rescue." While an overly rosy picture of harmonious cooperation among Greek entrepreneurs in Atlanta, the claim speaks to a general tendency among immigrant businessmen toward cooperative practices with others of their background. (30)

Like the peddler's pack created opportunities for economic mobility for Russian Jews--a slow but steady accretion of profit, pennies at a time--the most successful Greek fruit vendors, if they stayed in this line of work, could eventually upscale to grocery stores or wholesaling of produce. Greek immigrants also found success in another sphere of itinerant food retail. In 1913, the Constitution declared that Greek immigrants had a lock on the local "wienerwurst" cart business. Hot dogs had been introduced to the city by a local German-born butcher; now "the wily Greek has placed the snare with 'hot dog' bait in the very path of travelers" coming to and from the city's train stations. These Greek immigrants were, essentially, frankfurter peddlers, pushing their carts along downtown Atlanta's busiest pedestrian thoroughfares, selling inexpensive prepared food to customers of all classes, and trudging toward more stable modes of entrepreneurship. (31)

Wienerwurst pushcarts were only the most modest of Greek Atlanta's food commerce innovations. At the turn of the century, the cities of the New South offered few public dining spaces for the non-elite. Since the founding of the city, saloons had provided quick meals to laborers and clerks. But as the anti-saloon movement gained strength in the South at the turn of the century, regional city governments prohibited the practice. (32) Into this void stepped immigrant entrepreneurs--Greeks, most of all. "There were few restaurants in Atlanta before the advent of the Greek," noted a local reporter. "It was considered a luxury ... to dine or sup in a restaurant, as the prices were high, the service bad and the waiters insolent. The Greeks saw the advantage." A 1911 study of Greek immigration to the United States found that Greeks ran thirty-six restaurants in Atlanta, noting that they were "said to practically control the business." (33)

By this time, Greek-owned restaurants, lunchrooms, and cafes constituted a national phenomenon. Why restaurants? Their path into the eatery business seems to have been carved by early entrepreneurial experiences as produce and food cart vendors in the US, rather than their premigration experiences. Atlanta's Greek-owned restaurants and lunchrooms might sell a few items of ethnic cuisine, but most of the menu was geared toward American and southern palates. Their novelty was social, rather than culinary: they created a new kind of public space, where middle- and working-class customers had access to inexpensive workday lunches--a service that previously had barely existed. "In establishing eateries, the Greek communities helped to build southern urban areas," writes southern foodways historian Angela Jill Cooley, "[t]heir presence ensured that public spaces where food was served ... would become more diverse venues where people of different backgrounds and life experiences met and intermingled." (34) Many members of the city's small Sephardic Jewish community were similarly employed, often as proprietors of delicatessens--a vocation that combined the retail service of a Jewish grocer and the food service of a Greek cafe. Like Eastern European Jews and Greeks, these Sephardic entrepreneurs established themselves in the local economy on one side of a commercial exchange, serving comestible commodities to the general public beyond their ethnic community.

For a plurality of Sephardic immigrant breadwinners, however, shoe repair was a more compelling trade. Of the forty-one Jews from the Ottoman Mediterranean who applied for naturalization in Atlanta between 1900 and 1930, fifteen (37%) listed their occupation as "shoes." By the Depression era, members of this tiny community ran at least thirty of the city's 200 shoe repair shops--including the Palestine Shoe Shop, owned by Turkish-born Abraham Franco, named perhaps in tribute to Sephardic Atlanta's vigorous commitment to Zionism. While some Turkish and Italian Jews immigrated with experience as leather craftsmen, few had the resources to start a business on their own. But one of the city's earliest Sephardic immigrants had already found success as a wholesale leather dealer, and he provided credit and loans to newcomers of his background. (35)

Like Jews from the Ottoman Empire, Syrian Arabs emigrated in the early twentieth century because of both the push of religious and economic persecution under Turkish rule, and the pull of possible economic betterment in America. Though not commonly engaged in commerce before migration, Syrian immigrants to the United States often peddled in their new environments, in both urban and rural settings, until they could accumulate sufficient capital to establish a more stable commercial enterprise. Nearly every factor that nudged Syrian immigrants toward peddling, and then up out of it, echoed the circumstances that led Jews into and out of the practice: desire for economic independence; lack of startup capital; and access to credit provided by established SyrianAmerican merchants. (36)

Syrian naturalization applications show only one "traveling salesman" in Atlanta, but the federal censuses from the beginning of the century through 1930 list dozens of Syrians, both men and women, peddling in the city and the countryside, selling produce and dry goods from packs and carts. Of the 30 Syrian immigrants who applied for citizenship before 1930, twenty-three (77%) were merchants, grocers, and restaurant proprietors--a rate of petty entrepreneurship that outstripped Russian Jews, at least among immigrants seeking naturalization.

Peddlers trudged a difficult path, contending not only with loneliness and burdensome travel, but also with physical danger. In 1893, George Johnis, an "itinerant peddler of the Russian Jew type," was robbed of his pack and fatally assaulted in Buckhead, several miles north of downtown Atlanta. Newspaper reports of the robberies and murders of a dozen Syrian peddlers around Atlanta and in rural Georgia show how vulnerable these peripatetic retailers were: a Syrian woman peddling jewelry beaten and blinded; a peddler of Syrian origin "assassinated, evidently for the purpose of robbery," and left in a swamp. (37)

Still, they hoped that from the drudgeries and insecurities of peddling, the possibility of shop proprietorship would emerge. Though Merlin had arrived in Atlanta alone, he was able to peddle his way toward entrepreneurship by making connections in the local Jewish community. Syrian peddlers had similar aspirations, but there is little record of how Atlanta's established Syrian merchants interacted with the men and women from their homeland who peddled in the city and the surrounding rural counties--if they supplied stock on credit from their own dry goods and notions shops, or if they loaned these peddlers funds to purchase goods from other local wholesalers.

Two factors suggest that Atlanta's Syrian immigrants developed ethnic networks of peddlers and wholesalers similar to those of eastern European Jews. First, historians who have studied Syrian immigrant communities all over the United States--from New York City, to Fort Wayne, Indiana, to Birmingham, Alabama and the Mississippi Delta--have found that Syrian immigrant peddlers "moved up" and became wholesalers, "setting the new arrivals up in stock and establishing their routes for them." It is likely, then, that in 1920, Syrian immigrant Moses Daher, who had peddled in Atlanta in 1904 and now owned a dry goods shop in downtown Atlanta, supplied peddlers Katherine Johns and Gus Ackel, both Syrian immigrants who boarded in his family's home. (38) Second, several surnames from the Levant and Middle East--Maloof, Azar, and Ackel, in particular--were shared by multiple dry goods merchants and peddlers, suggesting that those of the same name were related or otherwise attached to one another through chain migration. While "Jewish peddlers, who were from a diverse array of locations, addressed their interests through formal organizations and groups," a study of Kansan Syrians has indicated, Arab Christians "looked inward, to family gatherings, to ... promote ventures." (39)

A combination of ethnic networks and open, expanding sectors of the commercial market were among the decisive factors that moved these immigrants into retail and service entrepreneurship. Other factors, such as aspirations toward vocational autonomy, also played an important role. Steven Hertzberg wrote that Atlanta's Jews were "desirous of independent status" so that that they could observe religious holidays and "permit the fulfillment of religious obligations" as they wished. Self-employment also meant that new immigrants could learn the local language at their own pace, without added pressures imposed by an American boss. (40) But Greeks spoke Greek and Syrians Arabic, and Sephardic Jews were often conversant in one of those languages as well as Ladino. In the predominantly Protestant South, Greeks and Syrians would also have been drawn to working on their own account, or employment by an entrepreneur with whom one shared spiritual leanings. Religion compelled immigrants of all of these communities to avoid work that conflicted with their sacred schedule; while Greek Orthodox and Syrian Christians attended their weekly religious services on Sunday, their annual liturgical calendars diverged from local Protestant practices. Contemporaries took particular note of Greek immigrants' preference for entrepreneurial self-determination, suggesting that they had inherited their independent streak from ancient Athens. "They own and operate the restaurants and fruit stands" of Atlanta, a local journalist wrote of the city's Greek community in 1916, "and [they] call no man master." (41)

Cultural Precariousness and Provisional Acceptance

Henry Grady hoped that his New South movement would reunite North and South by reconciling regional differences and pointing out the values they shared. In his addresses to elite northern audiences, he made clear that those values included the persistence of racial hierarchies, as well as antipathy toward the foreign-born currently thronging to northern cities. The South did not want these newcomers, Grady insisted. "We have learned that one northern immigrant is worth fifty foreigners," he declared, "and have smoothed the path to southward." A modern, efficient, productive South would require the business acumen and work ethic of native-born whites--or, at least, the investment of northern capital in southern enterprise. (42)

But the New South developed a more complex attitude toward immigrants than Grady's nativism suggests. Some southern politicians and businessmen maintained that economic growth would require a significant influx of foreign-born industrial labor. They envisioned a cotton-to-textile agricultural and manufacturing sector that divvied up tasks by race and ethnicity: "colored labor will raise the cotton," claimed one South Carolinian, "and white immigrants will convert it into yarn." Others hoped to eliminate the need for black agricultural workers altogether, by replacing them with Chinese and Italian labor. These efforts were stymied by southern farmers, workers, and state legislators who protested that foreign workers would depress wages, fracture white laborers' solidarity, and undermine white authority. "The pouring into our midst of millions of the lower class of foreign population," declared the Farmers Union News in 1910, "would demoralize our society, ruin our business and subject the South to a disgrace unequalled even by our negro problems." (43)

In the early twentieth century, native-born white Atlantans responded to immigrants with similar ambivalence, variously expressing conditional acceptance and nativist enmity. Atlanta's volatile attitude can be seen in descriptions of the city's foreign-born entrepreneurs. Since the local Jewish, Greek, and Syrian communities were so small, and each of these groups lived in close residential clusters, Atlantans were most likely to encounter immigrants within commercial contexts, when exchanging money for goods or services, or travelling through the city's downtown shopping districts. Native-born Atlantans decided where and how immigrants fit into local culture within these environments, and in response to these commercial relationships.

Immigrant entrepreneurs throughout the South encountered both economic opportunity and potential cultural precariousness. For immigrants who feared that the region was inhospitable to newcomers, there was plenty to recommend against it. Religious difference loomed large for Jewish immigrants in the American South--especially in spaces of economic interaction, where European and American stereotypes of Jewish commercial behavior might lurk just below the surface. But religious nativism affected each of these immigrant groups, especially when their cultural practices contradicted local customs geared toward Protestant religious values. Though efforts to legally restrict commerce on the Christian Sabbath were mostly unsuccessful in Atlanta's business environment, local police did enforce Sabbatarian regulations on occasion. Local papers reported arrests of Jewish and Greek merchants for defying laws prohibiting commerce on Sundays. In 1901, a police sweep of downtown merchants rounded up eleven grocers and fruit vendors, all Greeks, Italians, and Russian Jews who had violated Atlanta's Sabbath law. (44)

But in the Jim Crow South, the place of new immigrants in the local racial schema proved far more vexing. White supremacy and the "problem of the color line" was by no means an exclusively southern phenomenon, but as noted by John Higham, "sections deeply sensitive to complexion and cast of features readily detected a swarthy face." (45) Nativist violence targeted newer immigrants throughout the region, as when eleven Sicilians were lynched in New Orleans in 1892, or when "Whitecap" raiders attacked Jewish merchants in the Mississippi Delta in the early 1890s. In 1907, a white mob demolished a dozen Greek- and Syrian-owned businesses in Roanoke, Virginia. Locally, the lynching of Leo Frank, a native-born member of Atlanta's elite Jewish community, in 1915; the revival of the antisemitic, anti-Catholic, and violently white-supremacist Ku Klux Klan just outside the city a few months later; and the establishment of Atlanta as the Klan's "Imperial City" could only have made these Jewish, Catholic, and Orthodox communities even more alert to the perils of violating Jim Crow's assumptions and expectations. (46)

As was true throughout the United States during the Jim Crow era, immigrant residential clusters in Atlanta were often adjacent to black neighborhoods, and entrepreneurs from these communities owned shops and services that put them in regular contact with black customers. In Atlanta, the space that epitomized this phenomenon was Decatur Street. Primarily a site of African-American commerce and nightlife at the turn of the century, the densest section of Decatur Street extended a mile from the heart of the downtown business district. The railroad tracks, the source of much of Atlanta's commercial activity, ran parallel to the street a hundred yards south, which made the district a sooty but convenient destination for visiting businessmen and farmers who spent the day in skyscrapers and farmers markets, and by night sought inexpensive food and bawdy entertainment. The street was regionally renowned as a center of black music and culture, as well as one of the city's most notorious vice districts: saloons, gambling houses, poolrooms, and brothels peppered the street, despite the presence of Atlanta's police headquarters, a red brick citadel that loomed forbiddingly above the surrounding low-rise shops and apartments. Alongside petty retail and service commerce--groceries and clothing stores, shoe and hat repair stands, lunchrooms and cafes, and dry goods and notions shops--pawnbrokers dotted every block, providing both means and ends for the street's raucous, often hedonistic, and sometimes violent underground economy. (47)

Decatur Street was also known as "Atlanta's Foreign Quarter," its "bohemia"--"by far the most cosmopolitan highway in Atlanta," according to a local journalist. While many of the residents and shopkeepers were Russian Jews, Decatur Street's immigrants, like those described in I.J. Schwartz's poem, hailed from all over the world, composing a salmagundi of humanity that inspired another reporter to describe it as "the melting pot of Dixie." Here, he wrote, "Jewish shop-keepers pass the time o'day with the clerk of the Greek ice cream store next door." He catalogued Chinese laundrymen; a delicatessen owner and his opera-singing patrons from Italy; Pat, "the most jovial son of old Erin," who owned a pool hall; and, for good measure, a little Syrian girl. In this all-day, all-night market, "no time [was] too late for a black mammy to buy a red cotton dress or a Jew to auction off ten pairs of number twelve shoes." One Decatur Street cafe, from which wafted smells "gloriously to heaven of the foods of every nation," hosted members of many of Atlanta's immigrant communities: "The Greek, the Syrian, the Sicilian, the Italian, the Turk, the German, the Poland [sic] ... they are all here each night, finding companionship, a glass ... and gossip." (48) For Atlantans who boasted that their home was the New York or the Chicago of the New South, Decatur Street's radical ethnic heterogeneity added a crucial tincture to the city's local color.

Not yet fully acclimated to southern racial practices, new immigrants gravitated toward Decatur Street's low rents, plentiful housing, and hectic commercial atmosphere. Soon enough, they were drawn by the presence of their own communities, where they could hear their native tongues spoken and perhaps find a room to let, or a job, from a countryman. In the early 1930s, 114 of the 204 retail, wholesale, and service businesses operating along this mile of Decatur Street were owned by foreign-born entrepreneurs. Syrians ran ten groceries and dry goods stores, primarily clustered in the storefronts around the police headquarters. Greeks presided over ten restaurants and lunchrooms. Fifteen pawnbrokers and loan offices dotted these blocks: Russian-born Jews ran ten of them, and Jewish Atlantans whose parents had emigrated from Russia owned the other five. Russian, Polish, and Sephardic Jewish immigrants owned all but two of the twenty-one new and used clothing stores and shoe shops along the street. (49)

Decatur Street was also, for a brief time, a site of black entrepreneurship. In 1903, nearly three dozen "colored" barbers, cobblers and shoe shiners, tailors, soft drink vendors, and boardinghouse and lunchroom keepers operated along the street. But many of the street's black businessmen and businesswomen relocated after a racial massacre shook the city in 1906; first attacking black patrons and black-owned businesses along Decatur Street, a mob of whites terrorized the local black population for three days. The riot traumatized the city's black community, compelling black business owners to move to neighborhoods like Auburn Avenue, where their communal commerce, politics, and culture were increasingly consolidated. (50) By 1933, the number of black businesses on Decatur Street had diminished significantly.

Though the 1906 riot did not target immigrant businesses directly, the mob broke into Decatur Street saloons and pawnshops owned by Russian Jews, in search of liquor and weapons. At one point during the massacre's horrifying first evening, after several African Americans had been murdered and their corpses dumped at the base of a statue of "New South" spokesman Henry Grady, white rioters saw a black man run into a fruit stand and soda fountain run by Greek immigrant Jim Brown. The black man escaped, so the enraged mob attacked Brown, as well as several other Greeks who had arrived to defend him. Within minutes, the mob had wrecked the store. After the riot, Russian Jews--and, to a lesser extent, Greeks--who owned saloons in the neighborhood were partially blamed for the racial tensions regarded as the cause of the unrest. (51)

The riot and its aftermath demonstrated the potential dangers of being seen as failing to adhere to Jim Crow's racial hierarchy. However, while these immigrants' cultural marginality was compounded by their physical proximity to and commercial engagements with African Americans, they were all (eventually) legally classified as "white." Consider, as a counterexample, another entrepreneurial immigrant group that was unable to access the privileges of whiteness. During these decades, the number of Chinese immigrants in Atlanta likely never surpassed sixty. Nearly all were self-employed businessmen, primarily as proprietors of laundry services, and were, as a group, literate and numerate. As the community grew between 1890 and 1910, new startups relied on ethnic networks, while new immigrants increased the network's size. But the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 had dammed the potential stream of newcomers, and naturalization law prevented them from attaining citizenship. Considered neither black nor white, Atlanta's Chinese immigrants suffered racial discrimination that hindered communal growth, limited where they could live, and drove dozens to leave the city for less hostile environs. (52)

Greek immigrants, on the other hand, were categorized by federal census workers, as well as the judicial offices that administrated the naturalization process, as ethnologically Caucasian and therefore white. Eastern European Jews were also legally classified as white, though American racial ideologies, girded by eugenic "science," provided a framework that defined Jewish "difference" in racial terms. Under those circumstances, some national Jewish leaders feared that Jews were in danger of being classified as "Asiatic" and therefore not eligible for citizenship. (53)

Such fears were well founded. In 1909, a Syrian immigrant entrepreneur named Costa George Najour found his application for citizenship rejected on the basis of race. A native of Ottoman Beirut, Najour had migrated to Atlanta in 1903. After a brief stint as a peddler, he opened a dry goods store on Decatur Street. He was leader of the city's "Syrian colony" and a founding member of the city's first Syrian Orthodox church. But according to the assistant district attorney, Turkish nationals were "Asiatic," so Najour did not meet the racial requirements of American naturalization law. Najour appealed the case, protesting against being referred to as a Turk in the press. "It is an insult to call a Syrian a Turk," he wrote. Syrians are Christians, he insisted, not Muslims, and "are of the great Ayran [sicj race." He continued his argument in terms that surely unnerved Jews concerned about nativist efforts to curb immigrant naturalization. "If we are not 'white,'" he declared, "then the Jews should certainly be denied the rights of citizenship, as we are both of the Semitic family." (54)

In the end, Najour was granted citizenship, having convinced the district judge that he sufficiently demonstrated "the appearance and characteristics of the Caucasian race." (55) At the national level, however, In re Najour did not settle the matter, as district courts around the country went back and forth about Syrians' racial status. Dow v. United States, a 1915 lawsuit in which a Syrian immigrant in South Carolina successfully sued to overturn the denial of his petition for naturalization, seemed to decide the issue from a legal standpoint. Yet Syrian racial identity remained unclear to some, including a 1920 census enumerator in Atlanta who listed four Syrian families living on Decatur Street as "octoroon." (56)

But their status did not protect them from other vectors of racial discrimination--especially when they were seen as failing to uphold the dominant racial hierarchy. Often, immigrant entrepreneurs' mere presence in African-American neighborhoods was regarded as a notable curiosity. Jewish entrepreneurs of Atlanta's "Little Russia," a local journalist wrote in 1918, operated "cheap stores in the negro districts and build up tidy fortunes thereby." Meanwhile, Greek hot dog vendors cruised those same streets, "catering] exclusively to the gourmants of Atlanta's ebony population." (57) Recent immigrants were occasionally accused of criminally colluding with blacks for economic gain, as when a Jewish furniture dealer and his black employee were arrested and charged with robbery in 1896, and when Jewish pawnbrokers, Greek fruit venders, or Syrian shopkeepers were alleged to have purchased stolen goods from African Americans. In 1903, a Greek immigrant and his African-American employee were arrested for conspiring to sell whiskey to "thirsty Sunday customers" from the Greek man's downtown restaurant. (58)

At times, ideas about the racial characteristics of Jewish, Greek and Syrian immigrants merged with disdain for behavior regarded as insufficiently civil or genteel. Violent altercations among immigrant entrepreneurs were reported with condescension and amusement, especially when Greeks or Syrians fought among themselves. A line from the Shakespeare-era play Alexander the Great--"When Greek met Greek, then was the tug of war"--was frequently and comically employed in local newspapers to describe street scuffles between fruit vendors or restaurant owners over turf or monies owed. A quarrel between the Najours and Maloofs, both Syrian families in the general merchandizing trade, was described as featuring "Arabian daggers" and brawling women in front of their shops. This violence "is in the blood," a member of the Maloof family was reported to say. "Do you think the Maloofs, whose name runs back far into the history of Syria, could forget these things?" (59) Such portrayals provided a continually refreshed image of immigrant entrepreneurs as outsiders, and as a malign or ridiculous presence in the city.

Such slights might be articulated as blunt ethnic slurs. The Atlanta Constitution regularly referred to Greek and Syrian merchants as "dagoes," and mocked them when they took offense at the insult. When a Syrian fruit vendor was arrested for punching a white man who called him "dago," the police reporter quoted the Syrian in a prejudiced pastiche of stereotyped Greek, Italian, and even Chinese accents. "He said I sell the rotten bernan and the mouldy penutta and me still no fight. Then he call me de dago." He explained, "eff dey calla me de dago me fightee all de time." (60) Russian Jewish merchants were also called "dago" on occasion, though only in reports of black customers' complaints of being swindled, or pressured into a purchase, in used clothes shops on Decatur Street. (61) Suspicions that new immigrants would not be able to conform to southern cultural practices, or were themselves "colored" in some decisive and enfeebling way, added to their potential vulnerability.

During this period of growing regional and national nativism, which was often articulated in racial terms, members of new immigrant communities recognized precariousness in their social status. Each of these immigrant communities responded by creating organizations that could represent their group to the general public, defend themselves against slur and slander, and promote their collective interest. In these efforts, Atlanta's Eastern European and Sephardic Jews were in a very different position than Greeks and Syrians: they could rely upon the social capital of acculturated, politically-engaged, and frequently affluent German Jews. This established and increasingly native-born group took the lead in group defense. In 1913, the year that Leo Frank was arrested for murder, the Atlanta chapter of B'nai B'rith--the president of which was Leo Frank himself--had urged his community to protest "vulgar ... misrepresentations of the Jew and Judaism" in popular entertainment. (62) While new Jewish immigrants did create their own independent organizations--often in response to German Jews' paternalistic efforts to "Americanize" newcomers as quickly as possible--their fundamental and powerful connection to an elite group served as a significant resource.

For Atlanta's Greek and Syrian immigrants, the communities of the early twentieth century were that first wave; they built their communal associations from scratch. The organizations they created were led almost entirely by entrepreneurs--unsurprisingly, since they constituted the largest proportion of employed men in each of their immigrant groups. They were also the public face of their brethren and families, the immigrants with whom native-born Atlantans interacted most frequently. These men organized their communities to demonstrate their commitment to the city and to their new American home, motivated by both genuine patriotism and fear of exclusion or retribution.

A month after the 1906 riot, while Decatur Street's immigrant merchants were still feeling the disapproval of white reformers, Greek restaurateur Eptfimios Basil objected to the use of the term "dago" to describe "the representatives of his race." President of the local Greek fraternal society, and one of the first Greek Atlantans to become an American citizen, Basil insisted that Greeks "pride themselves on their neatness and cleanliness ... their [restaurant] kitchens are as clean as where they receive their guests." They teach their children English, and even those who travel back to Greece eventually return to the United States "until they find life's last resting place beneath American soil ... I do pray that the name of 'dago' will not be applied to us," Basil concluded. "We are proud of being Greeks, for our people have a noble name in history, but we are equally as proud of being citizens of this grand country." (63)

Dio Adallis, a publisher of directories of Greek businessmen in Atlanta and other southern cities (and an irrepressible ethnic booster) declared that Greek entrepreneurs were as committed to Atlanta as they were to America. "We have cast our lots with you," he wrote in his essay, "To Our American Friends." "[We] put our shoulder to the same wheel to make Atlanta greater, and truly the vaunted Gate City of the South in commerce." At the same time, he implored his compatriots to acclimate to American financial practices by opening their books to credit agencies' requests for information. "In order to have a good credit among those who trade with us," he suggested, Greek immigrant businessmen needed to "show a clean forehead to the mercantile agencies ... We are losing ground in the sight of the reputable American merchants, who are compelled to look upon us with pity and contempt." (64)

The events surrounding the Leo Frank case briefly came to bear upon the Greek community. Before Frank's arrest, a Greek restaurant employee came under investigation by detectives who suspected that Mary Phagan's murder had been committed "in the Mediterranean style." Gerasimos (George) Algers, president of the Greek Orthodox Church Council and proprietor of a local ice cream company, insisted that no Greek would ever commit such a crime. But if one did, he assured his native-born neighbors, "the Greeks would have lynched him." (65) In 1922, in response to the emerging strength and cultural mainstreaming of the Ku Klux Klan, Atlanta's Greeks, led by soda fountain keeper George Poulos, founded the American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association (AHEPA). The organization's mission was to encourage Greek immigrants to become American citizens, to inculcate patriotic values, and to demonstrate that "Greeks were good Americans and good for America, and therefore desirable business associates and beneficial citizens." With the exception of the local Orthodox priest, every founding member of AHEPA was an entrepreneur--grocers and fruit vendors, cafe and restaurant owners, and manufacturers of candy and ice cream. (66)

The same year as AHEPA's founding, local Syrians protested against the bombing of a Syrian merchant's home in Marietta, Georgia--the town where Leo Frank had been lynched in 1915, after which a self-appointed Vigilance Committee warned Jewish merchants to "close up this business and quit Marietta ... or else stand the consequences." By the close of 1922, all of Marietta's Syrian storekeepers had put their homes and businesses up for sale. Those who had family in Atlanta joined them in the city, resuming their businesses in their new setting. In 1929, the merchant leaders of Atlanta's Syrian community founded the Young Men's Syrian Association, whose goals were almost identical to AHEPA. (67)

Atlanta's European and Levantine immigrant entrepreneurs experienced both the advantages and the dangers of Jim Crow and white supremacist culture. Though they endured bigotry intended to communicate their status as outsiders, their placement on the privileged side of the color line, their engagement in small-scale business ownership, and their access to ethnic entrepreneurial networks facilitated economic mobility and propelled them toward individual and communal acculturation. All of these immigrants were legally able to open stores where they pleased, serving any customers who would buy their wares or services. They could purchase real estate (though restrictive covenants limited their options in a few of the city's wealthiest northern suburbs), and send their children to white-only schools, accumulating economic and cultural capital not just in their own lifetimes, but intergenerationally. Their collective successes in commercial ventures, specifically, figured centrally in their commitment to the city. Certainly, their business accomplishments contributed to the city's willingness to accept them.

There were, of course, important differences in each group's trajectory toward inclusion and acculturation, having to do with community size, the duration of their presence in Atlanta and the United States, variations in how natives responded to them, and the efforts of individual community members to promote communal interest. But as entrepreneurs, the immigrants who arrived in Atlanta in the early twentieth century had much in common--including and especially the importance of small business ownership to their processes of Americanization.

The goal of this essay is not to suggest that every study of Jewish entrepreneurship, or of the economic experience any immigrant group, should seek only to collapse distinctions. But if we find that the behaviors, proclivities, and experiences of one immigrant group are also applicable to others, it is worth investigating those commonalities. The story of immigrant entrepreneurs in Atlanta suggests that as much as the Jewish immigrant experience was determined by their distinctive history, it was also defined by their status as immigrants seeking opportunity in an aggressively entrepreneurial city.

(1.) I.J. Schwartz, Kentucky. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1990; Joseph R. Jones, "I.J. Schwartz in Lexington." The Kentucky Review 3, no. 1 (1981), Article 3; Avraham Novershtern, "The Bounty of the Earth: I. J. Schwartz's Kentucky," Studies in American Jewish Literature 34, no. 1 (2.015): 6-23; Dara Horn, "My Old Kentoki Home," Tablet Magazine, December 18, 2017, books/251494/my-old-kentoki-home.

(2.) Hasia R. Diner, "Entering the Mainstream of Modern Jewish History: Peddlers and the American Jewish South," in Jewish Roots in Southern Soil: A New History, eds., Mareie Cohen Ferris and Mark I. Greenberg (Hanover: Brandeis University Press, 2006), 88; also Hasia R. Diner, Roads Taken: The Great Jewish Migrations to the New World and the Peddlers Who Forged the Way (Yale University Press, 2015), 82-83, 89.

(3.) Schwartz, Kentucky, 105-106.

(4.) Blaine A. Brownell and David R. Goldfield, The City in Southern History: The Growth of Urban Civilization in the South (Port Washington: Kennikat Press, 1977), 137. Nearly every book that synthesizes southern, urban, and immigrant history focuses on a single immigrant group. One exception is Ken Fones-Wolf and Ronald L. Lewis, Transnational West Virginia : Ethnic Communities and Economic Change, 1840-1940 (Morgantown: West Virginia University Press, 2002).

(5.) To give only a few examples: Diner, "Entering the Mainstream of Modern Jewish History," 86-108; Michael R. Cohen, Cotton Capitalists: American Jewish Entrepreneurship in the Reconstruction Era (New York: New York University Press, 2017); Stephen J. Whitfield, "The Southern Jew as Businessman," in Voices of Jacob, Hands of Esau: Jews in American Life and Thought (Archon Books, 1984): 230-244; Clive Webb, "Jewish Merchants and Black Customers in the Age of Jim Crow," Southern Jewish History 2 (1999): 55-80; and my own work on southern Jews engaged in the pre-Prohibition liquor trade, Marni Davis, "Despised Merchandise: American Jewish Liquor Entrepreneurs and Their Critics," in Chosen Capital: The Jewish Encounter with American Capitalism, ed., Rebecca Kobrin (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2.012.): 113-140). Noteworthy exceptions to this general tendency include Deborah R Weiner, Coalfield Jews : An Appalachian History (Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 2006). Alicia M. Dewey, "Diversity and Entrepreneurship in the Texas-Mexico Borderlands, 1880-1940," paper delivered at the conference, "Immigrant Entrepreneurship in Transnational Comparative Perspective, 18th Century-Today," German Historical Institute, Washington DC, June 16-17, 2016; Steven J. Gold, The Store in the Hood: A Century of Ethnic Business and Conflict (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2010). Gold's book is mostly about the North and West, but includes some analysis of southern cities. Many thanks to one of my anonymous readers for alerting me to Roy Hoffman's Chicken Dreaming Corn (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2006), a novel about immigrant entrepreneurs in early twentieth century Mobile, Alabama.

(6.) John Dollard, Caste and Class in a Southern Town (New York: Doubleday Anchor Books, 1957 [orig. 1937]), 128

(7.) Radba Chaganti and Patricia G. Greene, "Who Are Ethnic Entrepreneurs? A Study of Entrepreneurs' Ethnic Involvement and Business Characteristics," Journal of Small Business Management 40, no. 2 (2002): 128.

(8.) City of Gold, directed by Laura Gabbert, 2015.

(9.) Whitfield, 243-244.

(10.) Henry Grady, 1886 Address to the New England Club, reprinted in Paul D. Escott and David R. Goldfield, eds., Major Problems in the History of the American South, Vol. II: The New South (Lexington: D.C. Heath and Company, 1990), 71-73.

(11.) Howard N. Rabinowitz, Race Relations in the Urban South, 1865-1890 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1978), 8; Don H. Doyle, New Men, New Cities, New South: Atlanta, Nashville, Charleston, Mobile, 1860-1910 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1990), 39-50.

(12.) Doyle, 136-158; James M. Russell, Atlanta, 1847-1890: City Building in the Old South and the New (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1988), 232-258; Charles Paul Garofalo, "The Sons of Henry Grady: Atlanta Boosters in the 1920s," The Journal of Southern History 42, no. 2 (1976): 187-204.

(13.) Richard J. Hopkins, "Occupational and Geographic Mobility in Atlanta, 1870-1896," The Journal of Southern History 34, no. 2 (1968): 200-213; Mark K. Bauman, "Factionalism and Ethnic Politics in Atlanta: The German Jews from the Civil War through the Progressive Era," The Georgia Historical Quarterly 82, no. 3 (1998): 533-558.

(14.) Quote from Hopkins, "Occupational and Geographic Mobility in Atlanta," 210; see also Bauman, "Factionalism and Ethnic Politics in Atlanta," 533; Russell, Atlanta, 252-254; Ann Fonvielle Mebane, "Immigrant Patterns in Atlanta, 1880 and 1896," (Master's Thesis, Emory University, 1967). Short biographies of a dozen English and Irish immigrant entrepreneurs, as well as Jewish and gentile Germans, are included in Pioneer Citizens' History of Atlanta, 1833-1902 (Atlanta: Byrd Printing Co., 1902).

(15.) Here and elsewhere, the number of foreign-born Atlantans in 1930 come from "Country of Birth of the Foreign Born," Fifteenth Census of the United States: 193 0, Population, Vol. II, chapter five, 248-250. Nations and regions of origin for Eastern Europeans, for the purposes of this study, include Russia, Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, and the eastern portion of Romania, which was within the boundaries of the Pale of Settlement. Extant scholarship on immigrants from this region suggests that few Slavic Christians moved to the states of the southern "cotton belt." Jefferson County, Alabama, was one exception to this general trend; Russian immigrants who settled there in the early twentieth century were employed in mining and industrial production around Birmingham.

(16.) Stephen Georgeson, Atlanta Greeks: An Early History (Cheltenham: The History Press, 2015), 19-22.

(17.) The Greek or Sephardic-Jewish identity of Turkish-born Atlantans was determined by one of several factors: membership in ethnic organizations, like Or VeShalom Synagogue or the Greek Orthodox Church; articles published in local newspapers (especially obituaries); short biographies authored by Dio Adallis, who produced directories of Greek businessmen in Atlanta and other southern cities; and Sol Beton, Sephardim & A History of Congregation Or VeShalom (Atlanta: Congregation Or VeShalom, 1981). While surnames served as ethnoreligious identifiers for other groups, I did not use them for Turkish nationals; few of the Turkish-born Greeks had identifiably Greek names, and surname similarities between Sephardic and Syrian-Lebanese immigrants might have led to identification errors.

(18.) Yitzchak Kerem, "The Settlement of Rhodian and Other Sephardic Jews in Montgomery and Atlanta in the Twentieth Century," American Jewish History 85, no. 4 (1997): 374-91

(19.) "Males and Females in Selected Occupations," Fourteenth Census of the United States: 1920, Population, Vol. IV (Occupations), chapter seven, 1053-1056.

(20.) Information about whether these immigrants worked for themselves or for someone else is available in the United States Census manuscript records, which includes employment status (as employer, employee, or "working on own account"). In addition, the Atlanta City Directories frequently list the name of a worker's place of employment.

(21.) The naturalization petitions for the Northern District of Georgia, Atlanta Division, are available at the National Archives and Records Administration Southeast Records Center Facility in Morrow, GA (Acc. 65A-0079). The majority of these documents are also available digitally, at the Ancestry genealogical website.

(22.) Jonathan Z.S. Pollack, "Success from Scrap and Secondhand Goods: Jewish Businessmen in the Midwest, 1890-1930," in Chosen Capital: The Jewish Encounter with American Capitalism, ed., Rebecca Kobrin (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2012): 93-112; Wendy A. Woloson, In Hock: Pawning in America from Independence through the Great Depression (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009), 60-64.

(23.) Steven Hertzberg, Strangers within the Gate City: The Jews of Atlanta, 1845-1915 (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society of America, 1978), 153.

(24.) Mark K. Bauman, "The Emergence of Jewish Social Service Agencies in Atlanta," The Georgia Historical Quarterly 69, no. 4 (1985): 496, 500; Solomon Sutker, "The Jews of Atlanta: Their Social Structure and Leadership Patterns," (PhD diss., University of North Carolina, 1950), 91; Interview with Sam Eplan, Jewish Oral History Project of Atlanta, February 11, 1976, 14-17, Cuba Family Archives for Southern Jewish History, William Breman Jewish Heritage Museum, Atlanta, GA.

(25.) Associated Grocers Co-op Inc. Records (Mss 070), Cuba Family Archives for Southern Jewish History, William Breman Jewish Heritage Museum; Atlanta Constitution (hereafter AC), February 27, 1934, 4; Shelly Tenenbaum, A Credit to Their Community: Jewish Loan Societies in the United States, 1880-1945 (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1993), 147.

(26.) Robert A. Rockaway, "'It's Hard Living in Atlanta': The Contrasting Views of Two Jewish Immigrants, 1905-1906," The Georgia Historical Quarterly 77, no. 3 (1993): 571-575; Barnet Merlin Petition for Naturalization, 65A-0079 vol. 2, National Archives and Records Administration Southeast Records Center Facility, Morrow, GA.; 1920 United States Census, Georgia, Fulton, Atlanta Ward 2, District 0053. Merlin is spelled "Marlin" in Rockaway's essay.

(27.) Caesar Mavratsas, "Greek-American Economic Culture: The Intensification of Economic Life and a Parallel Process of Puritanization," in New Migrants in the Marketplace : Boston's Ethnic Entrepreneurs, ed., Marilyn Halter (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1995): 98-101; Alexander Kitroeff, "The Transformation of the Greek American Press: The National Herald, 1915-1939," Hellenic Studies 23, no. 2 (2015): 129.

(28.) "Greeks" in Harvard Encyclopedia of American Ethnic Groups, Stephan Thernstrom, ed., (Cambridge:Harvard University Press, 1980), 430-440; Lawrence A. Lovell-Troy, "Clan Structure and Economic Activity: The Case of Greeks in Small Business Enterprise," in Self-Help in Urban America: Patterns of Minority Business Enterprise (Port Washington: Kennikat Press, 1980), 58-85; Peter C. Moskos and Charles C. Moskos, eds., Greek Americans: Struggle and Success, 3rd ed. (New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers, 2014); Lazar Odzak, "Demetrios Is Now Jimmy": Greek Immigrants in the Southern United States, 1895-1965 (Durham: Monograph Publishers, 2006).

(29.) Georgeson, 67-68, 72-77; AC, January 28 1894, 21, and July 6, 1910, 8.

(30.) AC, October 28, 1906, B6; and October 23, 1912, An.

(31.) AC, April 13, 1913, 15.

(32.) Angela Jill Cooley, To Live and Dine in Dixie: The Evolution of Urban Food Culture in the Jim Crow South (University of Georgia Press, 2015), 48-61

(33.) AC, October 23, 1912, An; Henry Pratt Fairchild, Greek Immigration to the United States (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1911), 171; Ann W. Ellis, "The Greek Community in Atlanta, 1900-1923," The Georgia Historical Quarterly 58, no. 4 (1974): 400-408.

(34.) Cooley, 51.

(35.) Marc D. Angel, "The Sephardim of the United States: An Exploratory Study," The American Jewish Year Book 74 (1973): 94, 116-117; Mark K. Bauman, "Role Theory and History: The Illustration of Ethnic Brokerage in the Atlanta Jewish Community in an Era of Transition and Conflict," American Jewish History 73, no. 1 (1983), 85; "Shoe Repairers," Atlanta City Directory, 1933, 1595-1596; Kerem, 387.

(36.) Sarah Gualtieri, Between Arab and White: Race and Ethnicity in the Early Syrian American Diaspora (University of California Press, 2009), 46-48; Alixa Naff, Becoming American: The Early Arab Immigrant Experience (Southern Illinois University Press, 1985). On Syrian immigrants elsewhere in the South, see James Thomas, "Mississippi Mahjar: The Lebanese Immigration Experience in the Delta," in Ethnic Heritage in Mississippi: The Twentieth Century (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2012): 35-54. Daher, Johns, and Ackle found in the 1920 United States Federal Census, Atlanta Ward 3, Fulton, Georgia, Enumeration District 64.

(37.) On crimes against Syrian peddlers in Atlanta and the surrounding vicinity, see AC, February 5, 1898, 3; March 14, 1905, A1; October zi, 1906, D9; March 9, 1907, 12; January 18, 1910, z; May 16, 1910, 5.

(38.) Quote from Ozwaldo M.S. Truzzi, "The Right Place at the Right Time: Syrians and Lebanese in Brazil and the United States, a Comparative Approach," Journal of American Ethnic History 16, no. 2 (1997): 10; see also Naff, 136, 198.

(39.) Jay M. Price and Sue Abdinnour, "Family, Ethnic Entrepreneurship, and the Lebanese of Kansas," Great Plains Quarterly 33, no. 3 (Z013): 161-186. Family connections between Atlanta's Syrian-Lebanese peddlers and storekeepers determined through 1920, 1930, and 1940 census manuscripts, Fulton, Georgia, available at

(40.) Hertzberg, 15Z-154.

(41.) Dudley Glass, "How's Atlanta Now? The War Face of the Great Southern City," Forum, November 1918, 610.

(42.) Grady, 1886 Address.

(43.) Rowland T. Berthoff, "Southern Attitudes toward Immigration, 1865-1914," The Journal of Southern History 17, no. 3 (1951): 334; J. Vincent Lowry, "'Another Species of Race Discord': Race, Desirability, and the North Carolina Immigration Movement of the Early Twentieth Century," Journal of American Ethnic History 35, no. z (2016): 32-59; "Foreign Immigration," Farmers Union News, Union City, GA., February 16, 1910, n.p.

(44.) AC, September 13, 1897, 6 (M. Runim, fruit stand on Marietta Street, and others), and February 18, 1901, 10 (Finkelstein, Jewish merchant on Decatur Street). "Retailers Held Up by Wholesale," AC, April 22, 1901, 7.

(45.) Quote from John Higham, Strangers in the Land: Patterns of American Nativism, 1860-1925 (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1983), 168-169. See also David R. Goldfield, Cotton Fields and Skyscrapers: Southern City and Region, 1607-1980 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1982), 106-108.

(46.) Clive Webb, "The Lynching of Sicilian Immigrants in the American South, 1880-1910," in Lynching Reconsidered: New Perspectives in the Study of Mob Violence, ed. William D. Carrigan (Routledge, 2008): 175-204; "Nine Greek Cafes Wrecked by a Mob," New York Times, July 15, 1907, 14; William F. Holmes, "Whitecapping: Anti-Semitism in the Populist Era," American Jewish Historical Quarterly 63, no. 3 (March 1974): 244-61.

(47.) Harvey K. Newman, "Decatur Street: Atlanta's African American Paradise Lost," Atlanta History 44, no. 2 (2000): 5-20; Georgina Hickey, Hope and Danger in the New South City: Working-Class Women and Urban Development in Atlanta, 1890-1940 (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2003), 63-66; Tera W. Hunter, To 'joy My Freedom: Southern Black Women's Lives and Labors after the Civil War (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1997), 143-153; Cliff Kuhn, Contesting the New South Order: The 1914-1915 Strike at Atlanta's Fulton Mills (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2001), 47-51.

(48.) "True Stories of Atlanta; Decatur Street's Ghetto," AC, January 22, 1906, 4; "Atlanta's Bohemia is on Decatur Street," AC, December 21, 1913, 14B. See also "Saturday on Decatur Street," AJ, May 18, 1913, 2.

(49.) Atlanta City Directories, 1903 and 1933. National origins were determined through consultation with the US Census manuscripts of 1900-1940, naturalization applications, the interment records of several local cemeteries, and obituaries in the Atlanta Constitution. Black entrepreneurs were identified by the "c" that appears next to their name in the City Directories.

(50.) Ronald H. Bayor, Race and the Shaping of Twentieth-Century Atlanta (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1996), 94-100.

(51.) "Greek's Store Wrecked by Mob," AC, September 23, 1906, B3; Marni Davis, Jews and Booze: Becoming American in the Age of Prohibition (New York: New York University Press, 2012), 120-135.

(52.) Daniel Bronstein, "Segregation, Exclusion, and the Chinese Communities in Georgia, 1880S-1940," in Asian Americans in Dixie: Race and Migration in the South, eds., Jigna Desai and Khyati Y. Joshi (Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 2013), 107-130; Jianli Zhao, Strangers in the City: The Atlanta Chinese, Their Community, and Stories of Their Lives (New York: Routledge, 2002), 34-44; see also Lucy M. Cohen, Chinese in the Post-Civil War South : A People without a History (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1984).

(53.) Leonard Rogoff, "Is the Jew White?: The Racial Place of the Southern Jew" American Jewish History 85, no. 3 (1997), 201-213; Ef'c L. Goldstein, The Price of Whiteness: Jews, Race, and American Identity (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2006), 102-105.

(54.) AC, November 7, 1909, B8; and November 12, 1909, 8; Atlanta Journal (hereafter AJ), November 21, 1909, 10.

(55.) Gualtieri, Between Arab and White, 57-63; Ian Haney-Lopez, White by Law : The Legal Construction of Race (New York: New York University Press, 1996), 47-51,171-172.

(56.) 1920 Federal Census, Georgia, Fulton County, Atlanta city, Ward 4, 228 1/2-230 1/2 Decatur Street.

(57.) Ronald H. Bayor, "Ethnic Residential Patterns in Atlanta, 1880-1940." The Georgia Historical Quarterly 63, no. 4 (1979): 435-446; Glass, "How's Atlanta Now?"; AC, April 13, 1913, 15.

(58.) Hertzberg, 186; AC, January 22, 1901, 9, and August 24, 1903, 5; Atlanta Daily World, September 1, 1932, 6A.

(59.) AC, December 28, 1915, 10.

(60.) AC, May 3, 1901, 9.

(61.) AC, July 31, 1900, 12; and January 12, 1902, 9.

(62.) Hertzberg, 179-180; Mark K. Bauman, "Centripetal and Centrifugal Forces Facing the People of Many Communities: Atlanta Jewry from the Frank Case to the Great Depression." The Atlanta Historical Journal 23, no. 3 (1979): 26-27.

(63.) AC, October 28, 1906, B6.

(64.) AC, July 31, 1910, A8; Dio Adallis, "A Retrospect," Adallis' Greek Merchants' Guide, Also a General Greek Directory of the City of Atlanta, Georgia (n.p.11911-1914), 6-7. Jewish immigrant entrepreneurs were similarly rendered suspicious by their unwillingness to share their business records with reporters from the R.G. Dun credit agency. See Rowena Olegario, '"That Mysterious People': Jewish Merchants, Transparency, and Community in Mid-Nineteenth Century America." The Business History Review 73, no. 2 (1999): 161-189.

(65.) AC, May 8, 1913, 5.

(66.) Steve Gerontakis, "AHEPA vs. the KKK: Greek-Americans on the Path to Whiteness" (Senior Thesis, University of North Carolina, 2012); AHEPA Charter of Incorporation, 1922, Fulton County Corporate Charter Ledgers, Archives of the Clerk of the Fulton County Superior Court, Atlanta, GA. (Thanks to Stephen Georgeson for sharing this document.)

(67.) Steve Oney, And the Dead Shall Rise: The Murder of Mary Phagan and the Lynching of Leo Frank (New York: Pantheon Books, 2003), 509; AC, December 29, 1922, 5; and December 31, 1922, 6; Cedar Club of Atlanta Centennial Celebration, 2010, privately published. (Thanks to Michael Shikany for sharing this document.)
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Author:Davis, Marni
Publication:American Jewish History
Date:Oct 1, 2019
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