CHICAGO – Members of the American Philhellenes Society and the Greek-American community of Chicago gathered for an event commemorating the 19th century Americans who supported Greek independence efforts at the Chateau Ritz on May 30.
In celebration of the contributions made to the Greek cause by those who held Greece in their hearts, a memorial monument will be erected in Democracy Square of Wilder Park in Aurora, Illinois, the Society announced.
The evening’s opening remarks were given by Society founding member Georgia Nikolopoulos, who discussed the importance of “philotimo” in one’s life and efforts.
“‘Philotimo’ is the responsibility to remember and acknowledge the friends who have stood by you in difficult times and those no longer here, whose hard work and sacrifice gave us a launching pad,” Nikolopoulos said. “Today we gather here, Greeks, Greek-Americans and non-Greeks, to remember and honor the philotimo and philhellenism of the many who believed in the concepts of honor and freedom first postulated by our ancestors.”
The reception included an exhibition of historical documents, as well as a keynote speech on Greek emancipation and American philhellenism by Minister Ekaterina Dimakis, Consul General of Greece in Chicago.
“When the bell of revolution rang in 1821 and the cry “freedom or death” resonated over the enslaved Greeks, a number of American philhellenes started a lobbying campaign in the United States for the support of the Greek war, a campaign that captured the imagination of many influential political and civil leaders in America,” Dimakis said.
“The Greeks on the other hand knew from the very beginning of the War of Independence that the American people would understand their struggle, having themselves fought for independence a few years back,” she said.
Among the era’s philhellenes honored that night were Dr. Samuel Gridley Howe (1801-1876) who participated in the revolution as a surgeon on the front lines and established hospitals on various Greek islands, Georges Jarvis (1797-1828) who participated in many naval battles and fought alongside the likes of Georgios Karaiskakis, Jonathan Peckman Miller (1796-1847) a soldier who defended the city of Messolonghi during the 1822 Ottoman siege, and Edward Everett (1794-1865) an American politician and scholar who served as a leading figure in the philhellenic movement in the United States.
During the evening, an honorary plaque was presented to the Honorable Judge Charles P. Kocoras for his supportive role in the Greek-American community.
“I humbly accept your honor this evening even if I question if I am deserving of it. I receive it in the name of my parents who were immigrants to this great country, and under the most difficult circumstances,” Kocoras said. “They came to this country without the promise of a job, could not speak the language, had no money and no friends or loved ones to greet them. It was from them that I learned to love all things Greek, to honor their courage and sacrifices, and to cherish America and Greece equally,” he said.
Mayor of the City of Aurora, Richard C. Irvin, also received an honorary plaque for his acknowledgement of philhellenism in the United States.
“As I sat and listened to the recounting of the history of Greece and the struggles and triumphs of the country, I could not help but to think about my history and the struggles and triumphs of the African-Americans in the United States,” Irvin said. “As a matter of fact, my great-grandfather, Richard Baxter Irvin, was born a slave, and he was emancipated and worked hard to allow his great grandson to be on this stage receiving such an honor,” he said.
In 2013, the American Philhellenes Society dedicated a memorial obelisk in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, to honor Lucas Miltiadis Miller, the first Greek-American Congressman of the United States, and Jonathan Peckham Miller, his adoptive father and a colonel in the Greek Army during the Greek War of Independence against the Ottomans.
The American Philhellenes Society was established to identify the Americans who, under the leadership of President James Monroe, supported or fought for the independence of Greece during the years 1810 -1840, and to recognize and make known their contributions to the cause of freedom.