And it’s good old Boston,
The house of beans and cod.
Where the Lowells only talk to the Cabots,
And the Cabots only talk to God.
But in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, a town more familiar to many of us here in Arkansas, instead of the Lowells and the Cabots, the biggest and most respected names might be Makris or Kumpuris – while it’s not Wasn’t Zack. Because the local aristocracy, as in ancient Rome, was entirely Greek, and still is.
The death last weekend of the family matriarch, Kula Makris Kumpuris, aged 98, showed how lasting and indelible the Greek imprint on a community can be. Its very name – Kula Makris Kumpuris – tells the whole story. It was Pine Bluff’s equivalent of a name like Alice Roosevelt Longworth in the nation’s capital last century, when the Roosevelts and Longworths were names to be reckoned with.
In Pine Bluff, the Kumpuris/Makrises were a down-to-earth, willing-to-volunteer aristocracy who preserved and promoted the dominant WASP culture of Pine Bluff – without being white Anglo-Saxon Protestants.
For example, Mrs. Kumpuris was a founding member of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Little Rock, in addition to earning numerous civic honors in Pine Bluff. Most importantly, she was a nice lady, as everyone in town knew. The widow of Dr. Frank Kumpuris always had a smile – hers seemed a mile wide – for anyone who needed a word of encouragement. And a lot of people did, given all the problems Pine Bluff has had throughout its history. But in good times and bad, the Kumpuris and Makrises were always there, always promoters, founders and generally leaders.
Who will be the next ethnic group to maintain and promote the dominant WASP culture in Pine Bluff or, for that matter, in American society in general? Here’s a clue: !Spanish Estudia!
But your guess is as good as ours when it comes to predicting who the next WASPs will be in an unpredictable America. It hardly matters. Because it is a society linked by a common idea: that all men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, including life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. And not by our ethnic origins. What matters here is who we will be, not who we were in the stultifying cultures of the old country.
Various ethnic groups continued the WASP legacy that the Puritans integrated into American culture. There was a time when this role was played by Jews throughout the South, moving from traveling peddlers to downtown merchants. Pine Bluff still honors the name of Gabe Meyer, a riverboat captain who volunteered to save its public schools in the 19th century, while in other small towns, Lebanese, Italians and Chinese were the local wasps. Remarkably, this role was even played on occasion by white Anglo-Saxon Protestants.
But today, let us honor the memory of Kula Makris Kumpuris, grand old lady of her family and her city. Long may the Greeks of Pine Bluff prosper, and Pine Bluff with them.
Editorial of 07/10/2015