SERBS. Although the Serbs are not one of Cleveland's largest ethnic groups, they have made themselves widely known throughout the city. Serbian immigration to Cleveland came in 2 main periods: from the beginning of the 20th century to the beginning of World War I, and from the end of World War II to the mid-1980s. Serbs as a group maintain a strong ethnic identity, and while they adapt readily to American life, they do not quickly assimilate into American society. Many, although they may be 3rd- or 4th-generation American Serbs, maintain traditional beliefs and customs. Lazar Krivokapic, a Serb from Montenegro who settled in Cleveland in 1893, is considered the city's first Serb. It was not until after the turn of the century, however, that significant numbers of Serbs came to Cleveland. Virtually all of these Serbs were not from Serbia but from the Austrian Military Frontier in Croatia; consequently, they were part of the enormous migration from the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The largest group came from the area called Lika, while many others came from Banija, Kordun, Backa, and the Banat. There were also a significant number from Dalmatia and some from Montenegro, which at that time was an independent kingdom. Most intended to come only to earn enough money to pay debts at home or to ensure a more comfortable life in their native regions. They were virtually all of peasant origin. They worked in factories, especially steel mills such as Otis Steel or American Steel & Wire. Many Serbs did return to their native regions, but most stayed and established new lives in the U.S. Few women came in the early migration, and most of those who did ran boarding houses where large groups of Serbs lived.
Most Serbs lived in the area from the E. 20s to the E. 40s north of Superior Ave. Hamilton and St. Clair avenues were particularly dense areas of Serbian settlement. Many
The migration immediately following World War II was markedly different from the earlier one. Nearly all the immigrants were displaced persons, people who had been prisoners of war in Germany and did not want to return to a Communist Yugoslavia, or political refugees such as Chetniks who fled Yugoslavia after their military defeat. Many were from Serbia proper and were schooled professionals from urban backgrounds. With their strong commitment to Serbian culture and their large numbers (over 700 came to Cleveland between 194952), they instilled new life into Cleveland's Serbian community. They formed new organizations, cultural, fraternal, and political, and strengthened the St. Sava Serbian Orthodox parish. Many were employed at Republic Steel and settled in the E. 55th and Broadway area. Tensions and resentments between members of the two migrations arose, with many American-born Serbs not inclined to understand the strong political commitments that the "DPs" held. Many newer immigrants felt that the earlier migration had lost much of its Serbianness and that its members were reluctant to share power in organizations with the newcomers. These tensions were not exclusive to the Cleveland Serbian community, but were common to all communities in the U.S. where the two migrations coexisted.
These tensions grew particularly strong in the 1960s, when a new facility for the St. Sava congregation was erected in
From the 1960s through the mid-1980s a large number of Serbs immigrated to Cleveland from Yugoslavia, as Yugoslav emigration policy was liberalized. Changes in U.S. immigration policy and the warfare following withdrawal of states from Yugoslavia ended that period of immigration. These immigrants, many of them educated professionals, have strongly influenced the maintenance of Serbian cultural values. The Serbian language is still widely spoken throughout the community, and radio programs in Serbian continue to be popular. Cultural organizations and lodges remain active. With the dismantling of much of Yugoslavia and the ensuing warfare in the 1990s, many Cleveland Serbs, feeling that the Serbian viewpoint in the conflict was not represented in the American media, joined together to disseminate that viewpoint and to aid Serbian war refugees. The Serbian community has thus maintained a high ethnic consciousness, in contrast to many other ethnic groups in Cleveland where that consciousness has waned.
Donald A. Tipka
Cleveland Public Library
Georgevich, Dragoslav et al. Serbian Americans and Their Communities of Cleveland (1977).
Ledbetter, Eleanor. The Jugoslavs of Cleveland (1918).