“An Orthodox Priest and Congregation struggling to be Greek, Southern, American, and Christian in a context of racial controversy. ”
I am submitting to the Louisville Institute a book project designed to tell the story of Father Sam Gouvellis and the Greek Orthodox Church and their struggle with the civil rights movement in Birmingham, Alabama. Entitled, "Outside Agitator” Times Two: Father Soterios Gouvellis and the Greek-American Community During Birmingham’s Civil Rights Struggle, this study will not only provide a unique view into the life of a Greek Orthodox priest in the United States and provide a biographical window on a priest’s prophetic ministry to a Greek-American community seeking to find its place within a southern Protestant religious and racial social milieu. Gouvellis's involvement in the movement placed him within the original group of clergy whose letter to Martin Luther King Jr. triggered the famous "Letter from Birmingham Jail." It also placed him in Selma in 1965 with Greek Orthodox Archbishop Iakovos. This project will combine expertise in religious studies and civil rights scholarship with analysis of Greek-American interactions with religion and race in America. The experience of Greeks in the American South, however, and the ways the Greek-American community has encountered issues of religion, race, and ethnicity have not been fully explored in the scholarship of Greek immigration, the Greek Diaspora, or American religion. In short, this proposal seeks the Institute's assistance in producing a biography of the Reverend Father Soterios (Sam) Gouvellis, a Greek Orthodox priest who served the Holy Cross-Holy Trinity Church in Birmingham, Alabama, during the tumultuous civil rights movement of the 1960s.