Montenegrin Ohioans

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Numerous Ohioans are descended from Montenegrin ancestors.

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 and Southern European countries, like Montenegro, Albania, Poland, Hungary, Lithuania, 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 and Southern Europeans were also migrating to the state.

In 1914, fewer than two thousand Montenegrin immigrants resided in Ohio. Most of these Montenegrins settled along Lake Erie, especially in Cleveland, where they found low-paying jobs in factories or worked as day laborers. Most Montenegrin immigrants came to the United States to improve their financial situation, to escape political turmoil in their native country, and to avoid various battles between Eastern Orthodox Montenegrins and their Turkish neighbors, who were predominantly Islamic. Most of these immigrants were illiterate and, thus, were forced to accept low-paying positions. Immigrants who were more successful established businesses that supplied their fellow migrants with traditional Montenegrin products. Unlike most other national groups, the Montenegrins failed to create many social or cultural institutions. Instead, they joined Serbian organizations, and most of Ohio's Montenegrins were commonly identified as Serbs. In Cleveland and other communities, the Montenegrin immigrants tended to settle in their own communities or with Serbs, preferring to live among people who shared similar cultural beliefs and spoke the same language as they did.

Montenegrin immigrants 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 Montenegrin immigrants arrived in the United States prior to World War I, another large wave of Montenegrin migrants eventually reached this country in the years immediately following World War II. World War II destroyed numerous homes and businesses in Montenegro, and many residents of this country sought a better life in the United States. Ohio's Montenegrin residents actively assisted these new arrivals in beginning new lives. The new immigrants tended to settle in the already established Montenegrin or Serbian communities in the state. Once communists seized control of the Montenegrin government and incorporated Montenegro into Yugoslavia, Montenegrin immigration essentially ceased to exist.

Over the succeeding decades, Ohio's traditional Montenegrin communities began to lose their cohesiveness. As other Ohioans became more tolerant of the Montenegrins, many Montenegrin communities began to disintegrate. Many Montenegrins moved into other communities, while non-Montenegrins began to infiltrate the traditionally Montenegrin neighborhoods.

See Also


  1. Van Tassel, David D., and John J. Grabowski, eds. The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1996.