PHOTO: AHEPA’s funeral procession, from the book of George Demeter published in 1926.
EDITOR’S NOTE (Nick Stamatakis): AHEPA had its annual convention this past week in Orlando, and I am sure much was discussed there. One of its younger members, Leonidas Georgiou, invested much thought and even more research in analyzing its past, a past that unfortunately has left an indelible mark on its present. A full 100 years after its establishment, as Leonidas Georgiou notes, this organization is still dealing with “klannism,” masonic secrecy, and membership exclusion of women and other non-Christians. Are they sure they conform with non-discrimination laws, especially as they are involved in housing projects?
If I had to add a perspective to this in-depth analysis, I would say that the Archdiocese heavily promotes AHEPA as the “secular arm” of GOARCH. But we all know that AHEPA’s performance in promoting Hellenic issues (and above all, Hellenic interests in the Cyprus Question) has been miserable to non-existent over the past five decades. To make things worse, AHEPA and GOARCH are planning to re-launch this part now acting as agents of the State Department – and not as genuine supporters of the interests of Hellenism. God help us if they manage to achieve this part of their goals! It would be better if they stick to the “cultural” and “educational” – and leave the rest for better-equipped associations. Or follow others who know better and have a better concept of promoting Hellenism.
For those who would like to read Mr. Georgiou’s full analysis (over 50 pages) please follow the link to academia.edu.
Unfinished Business in the Order of AHEPA
By Leonidas Georgiou
As AHEPA celebrates its centennial this week, all Greek-Americans, members and non-members alike should be proud of its impressive track record. For a hundred years now, AHEPA has led in patriotism, philanthropy, civics, volunteerism, community building, athletics, and social events. Indeed, the venerable organization represents the best that Greek-Americans can offer.
For that reason, Ahepans today cannot afford to bask in the glory of past achievements merely. They must continue to be relevant in a changing world quite different from that of 1922, the year AHEPA was founded. The progressive organization must now confront serious existential threats that, with proper caution, can and must be converted into splendid opportunities.
A major problem it faces is that, in our modern era of diversity and equal opportunity, AHEPA still excludes women and non-Christians from full membership. Article 6 of AHEPA’s constitution states that “eligibility for full membership” is restricted to “any male person” who is “a believer in the existence of God and in the Divinity of Jesus Christ.” AHEPA has never been a religious organization. It has always been “non-sectarian” and purports to be open to Greeks and non-Greeks who are otherwise eligible to join.
Since 1929, AHEPA has had a “women’s auxiliary” group, the Daughters of Penelope, an “affiliate” of AHEPA named after Odysseus’ loyal wife. She waited for her husband for twenty years for his return from the Trojan War. Women in AHEPA are thus segregated into a separate and inferior affiliate whose members can never be elected Supreme President or hold any other Supreme Lodge office outside of their “auxiliary” organization. They enjoy fewer rights and privileges than their male counterparts do. Indeed, they are left out of important decision-making at every level of the all-male AHEPA, its local chapters, districts, and national-level lodges.
The world has changed since AHEPA was first founded. Today, women hold important positions in our society, including the president of Greece, vice president of the United States, Speaker of the House, Greece’s ambassador to the U.S., and countless more. Women lead major corporations and government agencies, legislatures, courts of justice, and universities, yet they are foolishly excluded from AHEPA because of their sex. This discrimination violates AHEPA’s core values as well as fundamental anti-discrimination laws. AHEPA’s continuing discrimination thus places the Order at risk, particularly as it enjoys tax-exempt status and seeks subsidies and exemptions for its housing projects.
Similarly, AHEPA’s exclusion of non-Christians such as Jews, Muslims, Hindus, agnostics, and atheists also pits AHEPA against its core values and America’s anti-discrimination laws. Greece’s former prime minister Alexis Tsipras is excluded from AHEPA because he happens to be an atheist. Dr. Albert Bourla, the Greek-American CEO of Pfizer Co. who led the discovery of the vaccine that ended the Covid 19 pandemic, is also excluded from AHEPA because he is Jewish. Philhellenes like Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer and Secretary of State Antony Blinken are also foolishly rejected because they are not Christians.
Photo: From the first AHEPA Charter of 1926 that has now changed…
AHEPA’s discrimination is not related to its mission “to promote Hellenism, Education, Philanthropy, Civic Responsibility, Family and Individual Excellence.” Instead, it is deeply rooted in its history as a masonic order whose founders imitated the Ku Klux Klan, contrary to the myth of origin propagated today that it was founded to fight the Klan. For four full decades, membership in AHEPA excluded Blacks. Membership was restricted to “White males” only. During its first decade, it also excluded Catholics. After years of controversy, these exclusions were dropped, but the exclusion of women and non-Christians remains.
Although AHEPA’s discrimination has nothing to do with the organization’s legitimate interests and philanthropic, patriotic, and educational work, it has everything to do with AHEPA’s history and the influence of the Ku Klux Klan on the Order.
History does not always flatter, and AHEPA’s history is no exception to that rule. AHEPA is and always has been a microcosm of America itself. That microcosm, like America itself, is the product of amazing people who contribute their talents and values with all their beauty, but also with all their wrinkles and contradictions, to create a unique society based on principles of freedom and democracy.
America’s history of slavery, the Civil War, and the Civil Rights movement do not take away from Americans’ justified pride in our great republic. On the contrary, that troubled history adds to our pride in our efforts and struggle to get it right, our never-ending pursuit of becoming “more perfect.” Perhaps more than any other people in the history of the world, Americans have confronted bigotry with candor and the willingness to shed blood in that pursuit of perfection. We Americans do not cover up our flaws; we expose them and strive to correct them. That is, perhaps, the greatest inherent strength of America, the integrity to admit our flaws in our pursuit of excellence.
The Order of AHEPA has also dealt with growing pains that parallel those of the American experience. AHEPA’s own struggle to get it right ought not be covered up and lied about. Instead, our awareness of history, both flattering and non-flattering, should serve as a guide for our ongoing trajectory of improvement and pursuit of excellence.
AHEPA’s original Charter, Constitution, and Bylaws were drafted in 1922 by Carl Franklin Hutcheson, the prominent Atlanta lawyer. He was a freemason, a Grand Dragon in the reactivated Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, and a politician well-known for his anti-negro, anti-Catholic, anti-Semitic, and anti-immigrant rhetoric.
Hutcheson played a leading role in planning and physically organizing the first meetings of AHEPA, which he designated as a mystical society. He initiated the very first chapter of AHEPA, the original Mother Lodge No. 1, on July 26, 1922, meeting in a classroom of Atlanta’s Greek Orthodox church. He addressed the gathering and advised it on how to proceed. He was not merely AHEPA’s attorney; he was an active member till his death in 1962.
In drafting AHEPA’s founding documents, Hutcheson copied certain concepts straight out of the manifesto of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, whose main chapter he headed in Atlanta. He wrote that the purpose of AHEPA was to advance and promote “pure and undefiled Americanism,” a reference to the Klan’s “100% Americanism” ideology. It manifested a bias against all immigrants, whom the Klan perceived as “foreigners” who took jobs away from true Americans and who “defiled” the pure white Protestant makeup of their country.
Hutcheson also inserted the Klan’s ideology into AHEPA’s original constitution, stating that membership was open to “any white male person” who was a “believer in the Divinity of Jesus Christ” and not a Catholic. Today’s concept of diversity as a manifestation of equal protection of the law was not what AHEPA’s organizers had in mind.
In the past, AHEPA’s leaders often acknowledged the historical roots of the fraternity’s discrimination, linking it to the Ku Klux Klan’s influence. In 1927, then-Supreme President V.I. Chebithes wrote, “the reasons why persons of a certain age, color, religious beliefs, or domicile, are automatically barred from becoming AHEPANS, are not because the Order seeks to desires to encourage the establishment of distinctions between people, but because its objects and work being defined, it desires to avoid the possibility of conflict ever arising within its ranks upon any of its fundamental principles. The Order of AHEPA teaches respect for all races, creeds, and religions, as long as they as such are not contra or repugnant to the accepted teachings and established standards of morality and Americanism.” (Chebithes, V.I., “The Archontic Order of Ahepa,” The Ahepa, August 1927, p. 19.)
AHEPA’s imitation of the Ku Klux Klan was controversial from the start. Contrary to explanations given today to justify it, it was not a business-as-usual sign of the times in the segregated South, the place where both AHEPA and the Klan were founded. AHEPA’s early leaders knowingly chose to expel from membership those Ahepans who criticized their discriminatory policies and even disparaged their character with ad hominem attacks to discourage others from doing the same.
In 1927, the five-year-old AHEPA put one of its most prominent members on trial for daring to publicly challenge AHEPA’s “klannism,” masonic secrecy, and membership exclusion of Blacks, Catholics, Jews, and other non-Christians. As he was put on “trial” by the AHEPA chapter he helped organize, attorney Seraphim G. Canoutas proclaimed that AHEPA was on trial, not he. In his defense, Canoutas argued unapologetically against AHEPA’s misguided bigotry and imitation of the Klan. His chapter, however, found him guilty of breaching his oath of secrecy and insubordination to his superiors and expelled him from the Order.
In the decades that followed, AHEPA continued its masonic tradition, which perpetuated its Klan-inspired discrimination. Writing his memoirs in 1950, eight-term supreme president V.I. Chebithes acknowledged: “The objects set forth [in the Charter] and the essential qualifications for eligibility to membership outlined in the constitution, being that the candidate must, among other things, be a white, male and a believer in the Divinity of Jesus Christ, reflect the unmistakable influence of the Ku Klux Klan, which was so strong in the south at that time. And although the objects of the Order have been revised in both the Charter and the Constitution, traces of Ku Klux Klan indoctrination remain. These are not dangerous in themselves, but they are reminiscent of the obnoxious and unsavory fanaticism in that era and that section of the country…” (Chebithes, V.I., “The Twenty-Eight Year March of the History of AHEPA,” The National Herald, October 18, 1950, p. 3.)
Today, as AHEPA celebrates its centennial, those “traces of Ku Klux Klan indoctrination” still linger over AHEPA. Instead of reforming, the mystical AHEPA engages in a disinformation campaign that falsifies the organization’s history, claims to have been opposed to the K.K.K. and its bigotry all along, and denies the existence of a problem in its membership policies.
In 2018 and 2019, AHEPA’s “commissioner of culture” chose to overlook the entire controversy raised by Canoutas in AHEPA’s early history as if it never happened. Instead, he chose to capitalize on Canoutas’ good name and portray him as a proud Ahepan. He organized nearly a dozen history lectures which he named the “Seraphim G. Canoutas Lecture Series,” without ever mentioning that AHEPA put Canoutas on trial and expelled him for demanding an end to “Klannism” and the discrimination that continues to this very day.
Similarly, AHEPA’s executive director gives “secret” lectures about AHEPA’s early history to various masonic lodges he associates with, boasting about AHEPA’s Klannish roots. He awards honorary AHEPA membership to freemasons in “secret” sessions that have nothing to do with AHEPA and its mission. AHEPA’s discrimination is thus perpetuated well into the 21st Century, while the Order’s dwindling membership remains in the dark.
AHEPA must reform because it is not just the leading Greek-American organization. It is the Omogeneia itself. It must end its masonic tradition which is nothing but the “traces of the Klan’s influence” that still haunt it. Ending its discriminatory membership exclusion of women and non-Christians is a start. Unleashing the power of those it foolishly rejects may well be the key to AHEPA’s future salvation.
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This article is an adaptation of Unfinished Business in the Order of AHEPA, posted on academia.edu. The views expressed in this article are solely his own and do not necessarily express the opinions and views of AHEPA or helleniscope.com.
Leonidas V. Georgiou is a member of the Order of AHEPA, Delphi Chapter 25. He is the author of Conversations with F.D.R. at his AHEPA Initiation, New York: Knollwood Press, 2019.