For most of its history, Mississippi had few Greek immigrants. In 1910 the US census recorded only 117 people of Greek birth in the state, but that number slowly increased, reaching 207 in 1920, 342 in 1930, and 378 in 1960. Mississippi ranked near the bottom among all US states (along with the Dakotas, Arkansas, Vermont, Alaska, and Hawaii) in the number and percentage of Greek Americans.
Greeks started moving to America in significant numbers in the first two decades of the twentieth century. Most immigrants consisted of relatively poor young men, many of whom hoped to make some money and return to Greece. Immigration to the South was slow, and the region had few significant Greek communities but a number of successful individuals. Through most of the century, Mississippi’s Greeks were spread out along the Gulf Coast, in Hinds County and Warren County, and in even smaller numbers in the Delta. In the 1940s no county had more than thirty-four Greek residents. Some of the more prominent Greek immigrants built on traditional skills to open restaurants. Arthur Fokakis moved to Hattiesburg in 1920 and soon started a café, the Coney Island, near the train station. James Zouboukos moved from Greece to Texas in 1935 and then to Jackson after World War II. He and his brother, Peter, opened the Elite Restaurant, which remains a fixture on East Capitol Street. Jackson, Madison, Biloxi, and Oxford have long been proud of their Greek restaurants.
Beginning in 1960, some individual counties had substantial numbers of Greeks—156 in Hinds County and 96 in Harrison County. The Greek population subsequently has increased steadily, reaching 3,703 in the 2010 census, most of them in Hinds County and on the Gulf Coast. In addition to older immigrants and their descendants, a second wave of Greeks has taken advantage of the Immigration Act of 1965, which encouraged immigration by people with skills, education, and American relatives.
Each May Jackson’s Greek Orthodox Holy Trinity Church hosts the two-day Greekfest. According to popular chef Cat Cora, a Jackson native, church members walked into “a completely different world: long dark wooden pews, deep red altar curtains, golden icons catching the light from dozens of candles along the walls.” On Celebration Sundays, the Zouboukos brothers prepared kotopoulo psito, a roast chicken dish with lemon and herbs, for “at least two hundred hungry Greek southerners.” Cora, whose father, Spiro, was born in the Mississippi Delta after his parents left Skopelos and whose mother, Virginia, grew up making Greek dishes, recalls, “In Jackson, my mother and father were part of an extended family of Greeks for whom cooking and eating were the center of life.” Cora, now living in Northern California, takes pride in mixing Greek and Mississippi food traditions.
Although Mississippi has not been home to a large Greek population, many of its residents have long shown interest to the point of reverence for some parts of ancient Greek tradition. Most obviously, Greek Revival architecture, emphasizing columned buildings that reflect balance, order, and a nearly timeless tradition, was extremely important in antebellum Mississippi and in the architecture, including many university and government buildings, that recalls that period. In addition, Greek-style statues are a common part of Mississippi gravestone design.
- Charles C. Moskos, Greek Americans: Struggle and Success (1989)
- D. C. Young and Stephen Young, in Ethnic Heritage in Mississippi, ed. Barbara Carpenter (1992)
- Cat Cora, Cat Cora’s Kitchen (2004)
- US Census, Population Reports