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Numerous Ohioans are descended from Byelorussian ancestors. Today, Byelorussian Ohioans continue to enhance Ohio's cultural and social landscape.
During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, millions of immigrants migrated to the United States of America, hoping to live the American Dream. Before the American Civil War, most immigrants arrived in the United States from Great Britain, Germany, and Ireland. By the 1880s, the home countries of immigrants began to change. Many of the new immigrants to arrive in the United States came from Eastern European countries, like Byelorussia, Ukraine, Poland, Hungary, Lithuania, Estonia, and Czechoslovakia, rather than from Western European countries, like Great Britain, Ireland, and Germany.
In 1860, 328,249 immigrants lived in Ohio. These people accounted for fourteen percent of the state's population. By 1900, the number of immigrants in Ohio rose to 458,734, but the percentage of the population that was foreign-born declined to eleven percent. Most of these immigrants in 1900 came from Germany, Great Britain, and Ireland, yet a growing number of Eastern Europeans were also migrating to the state.
The first Byelorussians to immigrate to Ohio arrived in the 1890s. By the early 1900s, approximately seven thousand Byelorussians lived in Ohio. Most of these Byelorussians settled along Lake Erie, especially in Cleveland, where they found low-paying jobs in factories or worked as day laborers. Immigrants who were more successful established businesses that supplied their fellow migrants with traditional Byelorussian products.
The Byelorussian immigrants tended to settle in their own communities, preferring to live among people who shared similar cultural beliefs and spoke the same language as they did. They congregated together partly out of camaraderie but also out of fear. During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, many native-born Americans feared outsiders. Some of these people objected to the immigrants' religious and cultural beliefs, while others believed that the foreigners would corrupt the morals of United States citizens. These people also contended that the quality of life within the United States would decline, as there were not enough jobs to employ the millions of people migrating to America. Many native-born Americans hoped either to limit immigration or to force foreigners to convert to American customs and beliefs. The leaders of this movement were the Progressives of the late 1800s and the early 1900s. To accomplish their goals, the Progressives implemented numerous reforms, including settlement houses, which taught foreigners American practices. The Progressives also called for laws that would either limit or ban the cultural practices of recently arrived immigrants. It would take several generations before the immigrants became truly accepted by the vast majority of white Ohioans.
While many Byelorussian immigrants arrived in the United States prior to World War I, an additional large wave of Byelorussian migrants eventually reached this country after World War II. These migrants came for political reasons, while earlier Byelorussians had migrated for both economic and political ones. World War II destroyed numerous homes and businesses in Byelorussia, and many residents of this country sought a better life in the United States. Other Byelorussians sought to escape Soviet rule. Eventually the Soviet Union ended this migration. By the early 1950s, nearly three thousand new Byelorussians had arrived in Cleveland, with thousands more living in other northeastern Ohio communities. Strongsville, Ohio had an especially large Byelorussian community.
Following World War II, like most other immigrant groups, Ohio's traditional Byelorussian communities began to lose their cohesiveness. As other Ohioans became more tolerant of the Byelorussians, many Byelorussian communities began to disintegrate. Many Byelorussians moved into other communities, while non-Byelorussians began to infiltrate the traditionally Byelorussian neighborhoods. This does not mean that Ohio's Byelorussian population has lost its ties to its traditional cultural beliefs. Byelorussian Ohioans continue to participate in various social and cultural groups that serve to promote Byelorussian beliefs and customs.
- Van Tassel, David D., and John J. Grabowski, eds. The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1996.