The Mississippi Moments Decades Series continues counting down to the Center for Oral History and Cultural Heritage 50th Anniversary Celebration in 2021. This week we hear from Aino Driegert’s oral history recorded on January 12, 1973. It would the first of seven interviews documenting the story of Finnish immigrants who came to Mississippi beginning 1899. They settled on the Gulf Coast in a small community named for a nearby orange grove. The name was changed to Laine after the first Finnish settler in the area, Gideon Laine, who encouraged other Finns to come. After the Southern Paper Company opened a mill there in 1912, the name was changed to Kreole. Today it is part of Moss Point.
In the early days, the group had to deal such difficulties as hostile locals, who would terrorize them with night rides, firing into the air and yelling “Yankees go home.” The children were also teased as “foreigners” until they learned to speak English. But soon the hardworking Finns proved their worth and were accepted as part of the community, learning to fit in while keeping their cultural traditions and Lutheran faith intact.
1973 – Aino Driegert was born in Orange Grove, Missisippi in 1902. In this episode, she discusses why her parents left Finland and her father’s love for America. As the daughter of Finnish immigrants, Driegert started school before she could speak English. She recalls how her family struggled to become part of the Gulf Coast community in those early days.
The Gulf Coast Finnish Community worked to maintain their cultural heritage and traditions. Driegert describes various social gatherings such as communal bathing in the family sauna. According to Driegert, even though the children of their community have scattered across the country, they still consider the Gulf Coast home. She reflects with pride on the character of the Finnish people.
PHOTO: Joanne Anderson, Gulflive.com