|Looking Back: AHF History since 1906|
Tihamér Kohányi - (1863 - 1913)
Tihamér Kohányi was born in 1863 in Saros, Hungary. He became an outstanding figure in the establishment of several major Hungarian-American institutions, among them the newspaper Szabadság, which became the largest Hungarian daily in the United States, and the American Hungarian Federation.
After a try in the legal profession, Kohányi departed for the United States in 1890 at the age of twenty-seven. At the time of his departure, he wrote:
Kohányi's first job was shoveling coal in the mining town of Eckley, Pennsylvania, earning 81 cents a day. After the first day on the job, the woman who managed the boarding house where he lived had to "squeeze the cramps out of his fingers." Later, he worked at various odd jobs, as a travelling book salesman, a store clerk and a janitor.
During his travels, Kohányi made stop-overs in Cleveland and befriended the local Hungarian community. The only organization which was established at the time was the Gróf Batthány Lajos Society. He soon helped organize the Cleveland Hungarian Young Men's and Ladies' Society (1891) and wrote the first play presented by the group. The play was entitled "Greenhorns" and the presentation took place at Cincinnati Hall on Holton Avenue. According to Kohányi, this was the first Hungarian dramatic presentation in Cleveland.
Although the Hungarians in Cleveland had barely started building their community churches, organizations and businesses, already a strong need was felt for a Hungarian-language newspaper. Tihamer Kohányi met that challenge and founded the Szabadság (Liberty), which was first printed on November 12, 1891. This date marks the establishment of the oldest Hungarian-language newspaper in the United States.
The task of establishing the Szabadság was formidable. A corporation was set up with two Hungarian industrialists, Joseph Black and Theodore Kundtz, each contributing $600. Pledges of $15 were made by 117 Hungarians, but barely 50 were paid. These Hungarians doubted the project would materialize and were afraid of losing their money. They wanted some reassurance that the newspaper wouldn't cease after a few editions.
It was the perseverance and enthusiasm of Kohanyi which finally made the Szabadság a success. In the first years, he did everything, from writing articles, typesetting, correcting and proofreading to selling advertisements. He acted as editor, manager, editorial staff and business manager; many times without knowing where his next meal was coming from. But Kohányi's painstaking efforts finally paid off, the paper gradually increased in power and prestige. In 1909, it became the largest and most powerful Hungarian daily in the United States. Szabadság celebrated the 20th year of its founding in 1911. And yes, American President Howard Taft was present at the anniversary banquet honoring Tihamér Kohányi.
The New York Times publised this excerpt from remarks by Andor C. Klay (Andor Sziklay, a Hungarian-born US diplomat, author, and OSS agent) upon receiving the Abraham Lincoln Award of the American Hungarian Federation, Nov. 24:
In a few months 75 years will have passed since the arrival at the White House of an American-Hungarian delegation from Cleveland, one of Hungary's most populous cities then, as now. It was headed by Tividar Kohanyi, the chief editor of the oldest established and largest American newspaper in the Hungarian language then, as now, the Szabadsag (Liberty).
Kohanyi requested President William Howard Taft to attend the 20th anniversary banquet of Szabadsag and make a speech there: ''Just a brief one, Mr. President, since we can imagine how busy you must be - perhaps five minutes.'' The President smiled and declined: ''Do you realize my friends, that to prepare even a five-minute speech would take several hours to plan, to draft, to rewrite, to pass through channels for clearances? I'm afraid that I just haven't got the time.''
Kohanyi pressed: ''Well, as far as that goes, we would be delighted to have you speak for an hour.'' The monumental body of the heaviest statesman of his time straightened up: ''Gentlemen, I am ready, now!''
Through the Szabadság, Tihamér Kohányi exerted considerable influence upon the opinions and lives of Hungarian immigrants in the United States. For most, this Hungarian-language daily represented their only contact with news from the outside world and in particular, news from the homeland. Kohányi rallied Hungarian-Americans through his enthusiastic writings. Several historically significant projects were carried to fruition largely through his support: such as the Kossuth statue in Cleveland (erected in 1902)and the George Washington Monument in Budapest in 1906, one of the American Hungarian Federation's (then known as the Hungarian American Federation) earliest actions.
Kohányi was also instrumental in founding the first Catholic Hungarian InsuranceAssociation in 1897, and the American Hungarian Federation in 1906. In addition to all of these projects, during the first twenty years of its' existence, the Szabadságcollected more than $50,000 for Hungarian immigrants in distress: widows, orphans, striking workers and those made homeless by disaster in all parts of the United States (this is approximately $1,100,000.00 in 2011 dollars).
Tihamér Kohányi died on March 13th, 1913 and Hungarians all over the United States mourned their loss. Despite his generosity to immigrants through his paper, Kohanyi sustained himself on a meager income. Kohanyi married Rose Molnar on May 19, 1896. He is buried in St. Joseph's Cemetery. His work and influence was far-reaching. His beliefs were best demonstrated by the platform of the Szabadság, which was printed on the front page of the 20th Anniversary Issue:
"The Szabadság during all its years of existence was not merely a business concern, that attended only to the supplying of reading matter for its readers. It was a leader of all movements among Hungarians towards betterment and development; it has always strived for higher ideals; it has always taught theHungarians to be good,law-abiding citizens of this country; it has always strived to protect the Hungarians from the dangers that menace the immigrants amongst their new surroundings and hasperformed many otherservices to this country and its countrymen."
Kohanyi's success was largely due to his inclusiveness and appeal to the broader community. While a Catholic, he did not use his large circulation to promote Catholicism. He felt his newspaper should cover stories that affected the broader community. However, he admitted his work was based upon core principles which were founded in his own religious tradition emphasizing justice and fraternity. We pray the Federation, as we head into our second century of service, can continue to live up to Kohayi's example of service, charity, and love for Hungary and the United States. We must honor Kohanyi's last words.
AHF thanks www.clevelandmemory.org as the basis for the above information.
The 1907 Kohányi Szózat (Appeal)
“Amerika egy millió magyarja, nemcsak hogy követeljük, de keresztül is visszük azt, hogy Magyarország népének ugyanabban a szabadságban, ugyanabban az igazságban, ugyanabban a jólétben legyen resze, mint a mely szabadság, igazság, es jólét abban az Amerikában van amelynek lakósai, polgárai vagyunk.”
“We, America’s 1 million Hungarians, do not just demand, but will work to ensure that the people of Hungary may partake in the same freedom, the same justice, the same prosperity as we, citizens of America, partake.”
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