Belarusian Immigration in Chicago
Updated: Apr 19
Belarusian immigrants began to settle in Chicago around the end of the nineteenth century. Labeled “ Russians ” if they were of Eastern Orthodox faith, or “ Poles ” if they happened to be Roman Catholics, Belarusians were not mentioned by name in any statistical reference sources. According to the program published in celebration of Whiterussian Day in 1930, drawing on records of the Belarusian Committee in Prague, there were by then approximately 25,000 Belarusians living in Chicago.
Beginning in the early 1900s, however, political self-awareness gradually took hold both in the homeland and among Belarusians abroad. The first Belarusian organization in Chicago—the White Russian National Committee—was established in 1920. At a convention called by the committee in 1923, the White Ruthenian National Association was established, opening its offices on the Near West Side. The association launched an ambitious range of programs, including the celebration of Belarusian Independence Day (March 25), the opening of a Sunday School, publication of a newspaper ( Belaruskaja Trybuna, 1928–1932), and sponsorship of a weekly radio hour conducted in Belarusian.
During the 1920s, several other Belarusian organizations were formed in Chicago, among them the White Ruthenian Aid Committee, whose goal was to provide assistance to Belarusian schools in the homeland; the White Russian-American Club; and the White Russian People's Society of the City of Chicago. During the early 1930s, the group's most active organization was the White Russian - American Citizens Association. A decade later, in October 1941, the state of Illinois granted a charter to the White Russian American National Council, which has remained active ever since.
The arrival of 5,000–10,000 Belarusian immigrants to Chicago in the late 1940s and early 1950s prompted the formation of additional organizations. One of these, the Organization of Belarusian-American Youth in the State of Illinois, initiated and continues to sponsor a radio hour in Belarusian. Since its establishment in 1973, however, Belarusian-oriented activities have been organized most aggressively by the Belarusian Coordinating Committee, which oversees such activities as participation in Museum of Science and Industry