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Black Athena and Diamond’s Farmers

In his analysis of a 'black Athena,' Bernal touted its interdisciplinary approach.
In his analysis of a ‘black Athena,’ Bernal touted his interdisciplinary approach.

In attempting to connect two scholarly articles with two seemingly different topics—in this case the foundations of Greek culture in Levine’s The Use and Abuse of ‘Black Athena’ and the link between cultural expansion and agricultural dispersion in Bellwood and Diamond’s Farmers and Their Languages: The First Expansions—one must think outside the box.

Diamond and Bellwood contend that the study of agricultural expansion is inherently interdisciplinary (Bellwood 1). Thus using techniques from archeology, anthropology, crop and livestock studies, genetics and—imperatively—linguistics, the two arrive at their thesis: Language diffusion follows/accompanies the spread of farming (Bellwood 3). The authors subsequently outline six objections to their thesis (on the grounds that the proto-language does not match the origin of its supposed dispersal, for instance) along with 11 specific examples, including the Bantu Migration and Japan’s early infusion (c. 400 BCE) of Korean rice farmers (Bellwood 7).

And it is precisely this interdisciplinary approach that pops up in Levine’s review of Martin Bernal’s Black Athena. So what is Bernal’s hypothesis: Greek culture is not simply Indo-European “classical;” it contains elements from Egypt and the Levant as well (Levine 441). Levine’s response exposes the difficulty of pinpointing the inciting factors of a particular civilization while taking factors like race and politics into consideration. Note: Levine is not critiquing Bernal’s hypothesis; she critiques his political motives behind Black Athena. Just as Bernal levies heavy accusations at “subjective” 19th century classicists, he uses a 19th century paradigm to do his own bidding (i.e. righting the perceived historical record of racist misjudgments) (Levine 446).

But the “interdisciplinary” notion originates from Bernal himself. “Volume 1 of the Black Athena series is dedicated to Bernal’s father, John Desmond Bernal, a historian of science, ‘who taught [Bernal] that things fit together interestingly,’ and it is in fitting things together, interestingly, that Bernal’s book represents a tour de force,” Levine writes (Levine 444). I’d argue that Bellwood and Diamond’s hypothesis also fits evidence together…interestingly. And despite Levine’s verbose, animated analysis and B&D’s lengthy list of criticisms, we inevitable end up in the same place—wondering if current events influence every historical analysis and if objectivity exists at all (Levine 447-9).

Catherine engineered a Russian 'confessional state' in which Islam and other religions were "tolerated."

Islam and the Russian “Confessional” State

In terms of the 18th century Russian tsarist empire, “confessionalization” referred to a rather fluctuating toleration of non-Orthodox (Christian) religions. Specifically, in For Prophet and Tsar, Crews identifies how this form of “tolerance” by tsarist officials engineered a conduit for imperial reach into the furthest extent of its empire and actually shaped Islam within its bounds (Crews 2). To the tsars of the Russian Empire, “confessionalization,” was an Enlightened, temporary means of instituting autocratic rule—grounded in religious affiliations as opposed to ethnic ties (8).

But, regarding Islam, tsars like Catherine the Great faced major obstacles from the very beginning. As historian Richard Bulliet found, Islam was “without the benefit, or burden, of an ecclesiastical structure or a centralized source of doctrinal authority” (11). How, then, could the empress integrate a non-hierarchical religious entity into an imperial system?

The tsarist officials reasoned that Christianity and Islam had enough components in common: Each was monotheistic, and Christian religious authorities loosely resembled various Muslim leaders (17). The subordination of Muslims to Orthodox Christians was not ambiguous (38); however, this technique prompted less violence than outright religious suppression. Additionally, the imperial state began to rule laypeople indirectly through the Muslim elite (and an engineered Islamic structure, i.e. the Orenburg Muftiate), yet every stratum of the Muslim population also used the imperial bureaucracy to suit their needs, as evidenced by numerous court documents (21).

Most importantly, tsarist officials used shari’a to their advantage by interweaving Islamic and imperial law. According to Crews, “[ruler and ruled] shared the conviction, emerging out of the 18th century, that the imperial order rested on religious authority, and that the tsar’s agents, along with every subject, had a stake in establishing a world pleasing to God” (21). Hence, if you failed to abide by imperial authority, you also failed to abide by God’s rules.

It must also be noted that tsarist officials viewed their conquests of predominantly Muslim areas through a lens of European Enlightenment that constituted a profound inferiority complex (40). And in a similar vein, tsarist officials predicated their understanding of Islam on their experiences with the Ottoman Empire (and thus did not understand the inherent heterogeneity of Islam from region to region) (12-33).

The Turkic nomads of the Central Asian steppe had a complex relationship with thriving settled civilizations.

Symbiosis: Everyday Life in Central Asia

A succinct distinction between nomadic culture and settled civilization in Central Asia prior to the Russian conquest does not seem to exist, as evidenced by both Scott Levi and Adrienne Edgar in both “Turks and Tajiks in Central Asian History,” and “Everyday Life Among the Turkmen Nomads.” In the beginning Levi acknowledges that the modern conception of “Central Asia” is defined by the five ex-Soviet nation states (Levi 15), but then he delves into the ultra-complex political and social history of the region—aptly described as “waves”—in which first the Persians (then Muslims, Chinese, Mongols, and even a fusion of all of the above) dominated the region. Levi stresses that pastoral nomads and settled farming peoples existed in a symbiotic state, perpetually in flux due to perhaps population pressures, climate change, disease, and displacement (Levi 16). Hence the distinction, or more accurately, the differences between pastoral nomads are probably cultural perceptions and not definite constructs.

For example, Edgar (with more descriptive imagery) delineates between how Europeans perceived nomads as “exotic” and “dangerous” (Edgar 38), whereas nomads—specifically Turkmen—are proud of their nomadic heritage, descending from the Oghuz tribes (Levi 23), and even look down upon sedentary farming peoples  (Edgar 39). In fact, “kinship and genealogy are not just sources of pride to the Turkmen; they are also vital sources of economic and political solidarity” (Edgar 40). After the Russian conquest, ethnic differences are easier to define, but that is not necessarily a positive result. According to Edgar, pastoral nomads in Turkmenistan were forced to settle; this often resulted in starvation (Edgar 43). However, as far as the division between pastoral nomads and sedentary civilization is concerned, two words come to mind that can be interchanged for each: trade and raid.

Russian imperialism shaped Central Asian Islam in profound ways.

18th Century Colonial Russia and Islamic Feuds: Jadids v. Ulama

Muslims—specifically jadids and ulama—reacted to indirect imperial rule in different ways. The ulama first rejected Russian rule in the late 19th century, then they filled the power vacuum left by Russia’s policy of “ignoring Islam,” thereby functioning as agents of imperial power (Khalid 38-40). Simultaneously, a younger generation of Muslims–jadids–suffered from an existential religious crisis and subsequently denounced “traditional” Islam (41). While the reaction of the ulama seems predictable, the plight of the jadids seems much more fascinating. One sentence in Khalid’s analysis offered clues to the foundational philosophy of the reformists: “Enlightenment and education would solve all the problems of the community” (41).

Enlightenment. This refrain sounds familiar. Khalid refers to the “Europhilia” of the jadids, but I kept wondering if this reformist platform is a direct reaction to Russian imperial authority and its relation to the ulama. The Russian empire arguably suffered from Europhilia, and it seems possible that these Enlightened ideas infiltrated Central Asia’s Islamic society. Khalid noted that reformist Islam was a hallmark of modernist thinking in the 19th century (44), but I wonder if this broader redefinition of Islam correlates with colonialism around the globe.

Fitrat gives a satire-laden critique of the conservative ulama as he reconstructs a Socratic dialogue between a “European” and a “teacher.” To Fitrat, the teacher signifies the ulama, and the European symbolizes the endeavors of the jadids (244-245). Conversely, Cholpan extols the virtues of modernization through the teacher—a Russian teacher—who educates a young Turk “according to the needs of the times” (264-265). In each case, the “European” bestows knowledge.

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For Prophet and Tsar: Russia’s Civilizing Mission in Central Asia

According to Crews, the “disastrous” conclusions of the Crimean War and the Polish rebellion increased Russia’s European inferiority complex (Crews 245). As a result, the empire expanded its territory, effectively encroaching on its geopolitical foes: Britain and China (245).  That’s the ostensibly “real” reason for Russian expansion into Central Asia, and I can stomach that notion a bit easier than any “civilizing mission.” Russia was in Central Asia for Russia. Period.

For one thing, I have never bought the legitimacy of a civilizing mission. Largely influenced by studying the British exercise of similar devices, I understand that these “missions” have ulterior motives. In this instance, Russians used Islamic intermediaries to institute orthodox, shari’a-based imperial law under the guise of eradicating irreligious activity (251-253).

Ironically, while trying to “civilize” Turkestan’s religious structure by introducing an electoral system, polarization between Muslims intensified (259). Additionally, imperial officials manipulated the legality of waqfs to justify acquiring land from their political opponents (270). Tsarist officials claimed that natives were backward in some way, but usually to preserve their own interests—i.e. when Abramov dismantled a committee of Islamic scholars because “given the current, relatively low mental condition of the Muslim population…its members would not be in a position to relate to those being examined impartially and would act in their own personal interests” (266).

In reality, the Russian empire seemingly adhered to its policy of “ignoring Islam.” Expanding under the notion of a “civilizing mission” was purely a façade for the British, the rest of Europe and Turkmen. According to Dostoevsky in “Geok-Tepe. What does Asia Mean to Us,” “This shame that Europe will consider us Asians has been hanging over us for almost two centuries now. But the shame has become particularly strong in us during the present nineteenth century and has almost reached the point of panic” (Dostoevsky 1369). Likewise, Gorchakov compared (and justified) Russia’s Asian “mission” with other European colonial campaigns: the United States in America, the French in Algeria, and English in India (Cracraft 410-411).

If “civilizing” includes impaling infants with lances then throwing them into a fire—as Bayani recounts—the imperial military civilized Yomuts quite well, especially women and children (Islamic 305). Hence a “civilizing mission” is a euphemism for the imperial control of native populations.

King-and-I-ballet

Chris Manos Dishes on Theater of the Stars, Past and Present

In an effort to get Emory students out of their comfort zones and into Atlanta’s vibrant arts scene, Christopher Manos, the longtime executive producer of Theater of the Stars, highlighted his company’s six-decade impact on Atlanta, what it’s like to work with the Fox Theatre and why we should all see The King and I on Sept. 5.

Theater of the Stars — formerly Theater Under the Stars — was enthusiastically founded in 1953 as a non-profit organization (with the support of Mayor Hartsfield, I might add), though seven years in, the small company badly needed direction and star power.

By 1960, Manos had been cavorting around the Big Apple for nearly a decade, working for the Theater Guild and forming his own theater production business, known as M and M Theater Company.

While in New York City, Manos transitioned from producing plays to putting on musicals. So when Manos met and married Atlanta ballerina Glen Ryman, and they subsequently moved to Georgia, Theater of the Stars snatched him up.

“At that time, Theater of the Stars needed a producer. So we got together, and I’ve been there ever since,” Manos said. “The fit seemed to work very well, and we’ve been producing musicals and plays and operas and ballets.”

Manos attracted a star-studded cast, including — but not limited to — Robert Goulet (Camelot), Madeline Kahn (Hello Dolly!) and Debbie Reynolds (The Unsinkable Molly Brown).  But some of Manos’ other Theater of the Stars endeavors had a more enduring impact on Atlanta.

In 1964, Manos formed the Grand Opera in the Park after the New York City Opera, which used to come to Atlanta every year, decided the annual journey down South was too expensive. Performing in Chastain Park, the Grand Opera featured 11 operas from ’64 to ’70.

Allegedly, Grand Opera in the Park paved the way for the Atlanta Opera, though, according to Manos, “Atlanta opera has a complicated early life,” he said.

Ten years after Theater of the Stars dabbled in opera, the theater company capitalized on another Atlanta shortcoming: the absence of black theater companies.

In 1974, Manos formed Just Us, the city’s first-ever black theater group.

“We had a wonderful run,” Manos said. “But then in the 80s, we turned [Just Us] over to a group that was African American because we started to get problems, what with a white organization producing a black theater company.”

Zaron Burnett, who has worked for Just Us since it severed ties with Theater of the Stars, claimed that Manos created the black theater group for funding reasons.

Worried about Maynard Jackson’s new role as the first African American mayor of Atlanta, Manos founded Just Us to keep government funds flowing to Theater of the Stars, according to Burnett.

Beyond the historical impact Theater of the Stars had on Atlanta, Manos touched on his company’s transition — due to sound issues — from the Atlanta Civic Center to the Fox Theatre in 1988 and the need to “balance out” each season with a variety of shows.

“We’re a family-oriented company, so you want a children’s show. You want a show that’s just off Broadway,” Manos said. “You want a classic that’s considered one of the 20 or 30 great musicals of all time, and you try to put all of that together.”

Theater of the Stars’ production of The King and I, featuring Victoria Mallory and Ronobir Lahiri, is one of those all-time greats.

From Sept. 5 to Sept. 11, this production of one of Roger and Hammerstein’s most famous musicals will offer Atlanta theatergoers both youthful energy and classic romance.

So why should Emory students venture away from Clifton, Clairmont and North Decatur to revel in the dizzying grandeur of the Fox or the courtly life of Siam recreated by Theater of the Stars? Or any future production by Theater of the Stars for that matter?

“Because if they weren’t taken to a musical by their mothers or grandmothers when they were young, then it’s very difficult to get someone once they’ve grown up to take on new tastes,” Manos implored. “If I get a kid in my theater that 11 or 12-years-old, I’ve got ‘em for life. And, you know, musical theater is a distinct American tradition.”

Perhaps you’ve already surpassed the child-like wonder you might’ve experienced at your first musical, but it’s never too late to get lost in someone else’s story. And it’s never too late to explore a city brimming with history … just don’t get lost in it!

Check out this story at the Emory Wheel’s website! http://www.emorywheel.com/discovering-atlanta-arts-an-insight-into-the-stars/

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Conflicting Reports: 1996 Olympic Games

The evening of July 19, 1996, was the culmination of Atlanta’s civic leaders’ desires to catapult the city into the international limelight and (hopefully) transform it into a relevant, vibrant hub of tourism and commerce.

According to reports from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the ceremony that boasted an in-house crowd of more than 80,000 and a television audience of 3.5 billion “opened with a burst of pageantry and song.”

Olympic gold-medalist Janet Evans passed the torch to boxing phenom Muhammad Ali in a riveting exchange that elicited wild cheers from the audience. Trembling yet determined, Ali lit the fuse and the flame zipped up a wire to ignite the caldron. Children sang and danced. Fireworks exploded. Gladys Knight performed an emotional (albeit predictable) rendition of “Georgia On My Mind.” An audio recording of Martin Luther Kings’ “I Have a Dream” speech coursed throughout the stadium, and enormous silhouette projections of Greek athletes flitted about on curtains. Truly, this centennial ceremony saluted both Olympic history and Southern heritage. After all, dancers held up placards that read, “How Y’all Doin!”

This was an unforgettable moment in the city’s history—filled with Southern hospitality, international camaraderie, and palpable electricity. Of course, this was well before a pipe bomb planted by Eric Rudolph exploded in Centennial Olympic Park.

“With the international onslaught, the city was vibrating with excitement,” recalls Maureen Downey, a Pulitzer Prize finalist and longtime reporter for the AJC. “It was Carnival and the Super Bowl all wrapped up in one.”

For some foreign journalists, however, the opening ceremony marked the zenith of the ’96 games. Perhaps the aspirations of mayor Andrew Young and Atlanta Olympics chief executive officer Billy Payne surpassed the city’s logistical capabilities when they snagged the bid in 1990.

Members of the international press corps encountered transportation issues, for example, and a few of their buses broke down. As a result, many journalists were late to, or completely missed, athletic events. In a 1997 article in the New York Times, Lyn May, the former director of communications for the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games, offered her opinion about the bad press the city received.

“That was colored by [the reporters’] self centered need to be coddled,” May said. “As a result, Atlanta ended up with a less glowing image than we would have hoped.”

When asked about the ’96 Olympics less-than-stellar reviews, Downey found that, while the athletic facilities and sports events themselves typically received a favorable response, the poor press was probably influenced by Atlanta’s “flea market atmosphere.”

“In attempts to make money and lease space, Mayor Bill Campbell and the Atlanta Olympics committee had little discretion in terms of the vendors,” Downey said. “The city handled street space poorly . . . For people who only attended one or two events and were there for the street life, vendors hocking junk was a detriment.”

But regardless of reports (both good and bad) and the fact that, according to Downey, Atlanta failed to transform into the bustling city center she’d hoped for, the 1996 Olympic games had an irrefutable impact on Atlanta’s infrastructure and business profile. Pedestrian environments improved thanks to repaved sidewalks, new signage, public art, newly planted trees, and improved lighting. The Techwood Homes housing project was converted into mixed-income housing and dormitories. Olympic stadium became the new home of the Braves, and Centennial Olympic Park added green space and enticed both commercial and residential investors.

Back in 1996 at the opening ceremony, Atlanta-born Suzy Wilner described her dreams for the city’s foray into the international spotlight to a reporter from the AJC.

“With everybody’s eyes on Atlanta, I just hope they see Atlanta as a great place to come and visit,” Wilner said.

And for the most part, they did

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The Dedication of the Georgia Capitol: Irony Abounds

The dedication of Georgia’s new Capitol on July 4, 1889 was an exercise in mixed metaphors. The ceremony, a grand legislative procession from the lawmakers’ temporary digs in an opera house on Marietta Street to the gilded edifice six blocks away, was carefully staged to symbolize democracy as an institution. According to a reporter from the Atlanta Constitution, the Georgia General Assembly members “walked deliberately and quietly, unattended by any flourish of trumpets. It was democratic simplicity personified in the representatives of the people.” And it is with this image of democracy—easily emphasized by the Greco-Roman architecture of the Capitol building—that we encounter the dedication ceremony’s first blundering paradox: amid the over 200 members of the procession, there was only one African American.

The sole black participant in the procession was Samuel A. McIver, a House representative from Liberty County. In 1889, African Americans accounted for almost 45 percent of Georgia’s population, yet were consistently barred from the political process through official state policies and ballot-box discrimination.

Governor John B. Gordon—living representation of the Confederacy and leader of Georgia’s Ku Klux Klan—waited patiently at the Capitol for assembly members to arrive. With a flair of dramatic irony, McIver marched toward Gordon, a man who used both legislative and violent means to deny African Americans participation in democracy.

The procession’s interaction with the Capitol’s architectural elements was also symbolic. For instance, the building itself rested atop a hill, and according to a passage in Democracy Restored: A History of the Georgia State Capitol, the forced upward movement of the procession was “an important feature—common to temple design—that signaled the movement from ordinary activities of daily life to extraordinary duties of civic endeavor.”

As the members of the democratic parade ascended the stairs and strode through the Capitol’s west entrance, they passed below sculptures of men and women, each personifying a democratic ideal. The female forms represented liberty, commerce, and prosperity, but in Georgia, an 1889 constitutional amendment denied women the right to vote. And unlike McIver, no women were represented in the Georgia General Assembly. The first female members of the statehouse weren’t elected until 1922.

Gordon and his legislative procession more aptly highlighted Georgia’s racial and gender disparities in political representation. On July 4, they displayed their own version of democracy, an institution where all white men were created equally.

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a quick note on the AIDS epidemic in Atlanta

The day was September 8th, 1991. According to news reports from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the sun shined bright over the first annual AIDS Walk Atlanta and the subsequent benefit held in Piedmont Park. The event, entitled “From All Walks of Life,” was Atlanta’s first major fund-raiser to combat the AIDS epidemic that had plagued the nation for almost 10 years.

 

Carolyn Calloway strode onto the stage to perform with Elton John and Brett Lykins, a 10-year-old boy who contracted AIDS from a blood transfusion when he was a small child. Clad in black spandex, a blue blazer with giant shoulder pads and fluffy blonde bangs, Calloway plopped down next to the tiny boy as he sat on a set of pink granite steps. Thousands listened quietly as she began to sing “Wind Beneath My Wings.” Calloway asked Lykins honestly, “Did you ever know that you’re my hero?” And with his hands clasped around his knobby knees, he looked up at her and smiled.

 

As the ballad reached its crescendo, Calloway belted, “Fly! Fly! Fly away!” in her deep, syrupy vibrato. At that moment, a group of doves was released into the beautiful September sky.

 

“Those birds came out and circled the entire park,” Calloway said. “Everyone stood up and cheered and clapped and screamed. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house. Those birds, they just represented such freedom and such peace and serenity.”

 

But this was not the first time Calloway used her tremendous voice to help those suffering from AIDS. Nor would this be the last.

 

***

On August 24, 1950, Marian and Hasson Calloway welcomed Carolyn into the world, or more precisely, Knoxville, Tennessee. Her dad moved his family to Atlanta’s south side a few years later, to a segregated neighborhood called Cascade Heights.

 

Calloway (her friends and family never use her first name) largely attributes her love for music to her parents, as they often sang and played the piano when she was young. So it was no surprise that, by the time she was 14, Calloway had landed her first professional singing gig. She played Louisa Von Trapp—alongside Hollywood actress, Ann Blyth—in Theater Under the Stars’ production of “The Sound of Music.”

 

At 17, Calloway auditioned for Six Flags Over Georgia’s Crystal Pistol Music Hall. And the 61-year-old laughed as she recalled these memories.

 

“We used to joke that when I was at Six Flags, it was so long ago, there used to be four flags,” Calloway chuckled.

 

Her nasally chortle was infectious, and even in the crowded Starbucks where I’d managed to squeeze in my first interview with the uber-busy Atlanta realtor, I couldn’t help but burst into laughter myself.

 

Of course Calloway nabbed a spot in the amusement park’s summer variety show extravaganza, but it wasn’t until she moved back to Knoxville for college that the young singer began to seriously cultivate her passion for musical theater.

 

In 1968, Calloway was accepted to the University of Tennessee, the alma mater of both of her older brothers, Ron and Maxwell. Her grandparents still lived in Knoxville, and Maxwell had not yet graduated, so the city offered a home away from home. The teenage singer jumped right into UT’s theater scene, and there she met her first gay friend (and current best friend), Jim Allen.

 

Allen, who now works for the Tennessee Valley Authority, was directing “Camparet,” (a spoof of Broadway’s 1966 production of “Cabaret”) for Miller’s Department Store, and he desperately needed a singer. He remembered the first time he met Calloway, her Kappa Delta sorority sisters surrounded her, and they were all chanting, “Sing! Sing!” Calloway chose a Barbra Streisand song (he couldn’t recall which one), and Allen was so impressed, he cast her in his fashion show as well.

 

At UT, Calloway landed the lead role of Reno Sweeny in the Clarence Brown Theater’s production of “Anything Goes.” According to the songstress, this was her “first big stage production.” And Allen remembers it well.

 

“We watched her and realized we were watching a star,” Allen said. “She blew people away.”

 

It took Calloway five years to graduate because she couldn’t decide on a major. She switched from theater to music to journalism and finally settled on a BS in education. In 1973, she moved back to Atlanta where she taught 7th grade at a school off Cleveland Avenue, but teaching elementary school was not her cup of tea. Calloway found her niche at her second school, Westwood High School (now Westlake High School), and her kids voted her teacher of the year in 1974.

 

But as rewarding as teaching was, Calloway needed to perform.

 

“It’s the feeling you get if you’re performing onstage, and the orchestra starts, and you hear the crowd buzzing in the theater, and you know they’re right outside the curtain,” Calloway said. “Then the orchestra starts playing the intro, and you’re about to come out… it’s addictive.”

 

In 1974, Calloway found an advertisement for a newly opened cabaret theater in the paper. The Workshop Theater, Atlanta’s first cabaret theater, was having auditions. David Sheppard, the current executive director of Design Industries Foundation Fighting AIDS (DIFFA), and his partner, Ben Thompson (who eventually died from AIDS) were the producers. The theater was in a small house off of Monroe Drive, and it was so tiny, to transition from stage left to stage right, Calloway had to crawl out one window, run around the back of the building, and climb in a window on the other side.

 

For six years, Calloway was a teacher by day, and a cabaret singer by night.

 

After the Workshop Theater, Calloway performed in several other cabarets including Angelo’s Cabaret and the Manhattan Yellow Pages (MYP), a throwback to New York’s 1920s cabaret theater. According to Calloway, MYP developed quite the cult following, and the audience members would come to show after show until they’d learned all the words.

 

In 1975, Gene Dale hired her to sing in his restaurant, Gene & Gabe’s (now called Smith’s Olde Bar). Calloway would sing as her pal Harris Wheeler played the piano. The bar was dark and smoky as she crooned the great, tragic love songs like Stephen Sondheim’s “Losing My Mind.” But Calloway loved the drama.

 

“Whenever Theater of the Stars, or the Fox Theater would have a show, the cast would come to Gene & Gabe’s to have dinner,” Calloway said. “So on any given night, sitting in the audience would be Rock Hudson, Joan Rivers, Paul Lynde and Elizabeth Allen.”

 

In 1980, Dale decided to open a cabaret theater on the top level of the restaurant, aptly named “Upstairs at Gene & Gabe’s,” and Calloway fondly recalls this period as the greatest time in her life.

 

Unfortunately, the 80s were also the worst. The close relationships the singer had developed with her fellow cabaret performers, as well as coworkers at Gene & Gabe’s, literally disintegrated as her friends began to get sick and die. Over the next few years, 40 of her friends would die from AIDS.

 

According to Calloway, when she’d sing at her friends’ memorial services, their parents would have no idea that their sons had been sick, let alone gay. After all, the AIDS epidemic was just beginning.

 

***

 

AIDS, or acquired immune deficiency syndrome, was a nameless disease when the epidemic struck the United States in 1981.  And one word can be used to describe the national sentiment at the time: panic.

 

In 1981, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention scrambled to assemble a task force to name and assess the mysterious killer. According to James Curran, Emory University’s Dean of Public Health and co-director of Emory’s Center for AIDS Research, when the CDC task force attempted to name the disease (Curran led the task force in 1981) they initially considered “GRID,” or gay-related immune deficiency, because so many of the infected patients seemed to be white, “homosexual” men. Ultimately, the team named the virus “AIDS” in 1982.

 

A stigma already permeated society. People began to associate AIDS with “homosexuality,” and that lead to discrimination and paranoia.

 

Michael Shutt, Emory University’s director of LGBT life, referred to the 1980s as “the missing decade.” Shutt claims that differences in sexual preference/orientation blossomed in the 1960s and 1970s. But as AIDS garnered a gay stigma in the 80s, people were afraid to talk about their sexuality.

 

“If you were ‘out,’ you were HIV positive,” Shutt said.

 

Curran said he believes the stigma grew because there were no blood tests for the first four years of the epidemic. Essentially, a person wouldn’t know he was infected until after he became very, very sick.

 

“That created a new kind of stigma, both within the gay community and at large,” Curran said. “Because you’d see people walking around like skeletons. And everybody was very afraid of them.”

 

But AIDS and its precursor, HIV, were not confined to gay, white men. An article written by Ron Taylor, published in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in December of 1985, detailed the disease’s transition.

 

“This was the year the fear of AIDS—AFRAIDS as one national magazine called it—found mainstream America,” Taylor reported. “No longer was AIDS a disease buried in America’s subculture of homosexuals…By mid-1985, there were enough rumors and enough confusion to scare everybody.”

 

All sorts of people, including children, acquired HIV from tainted blood transfusions. Parents were afraid that “AIDS children” would infect their babies at school, the Pentagon threatened to jettison infected service men from the military and religious zealots blamed “homosexuals” for unleashing the “gay plague” upon society.

 

In the midst of this terrifying crisis, organizations like AID Atlanta sprung up to address the fallout. People began to practice “safe sex” by using condoms, and as Curran noted, the gay community was forced to ‘come out’ as a people.

 

The most heart-wrenching element of the AIDS epidemic was the fact that suitable medication was not developed until around 1995, said the former leader of the CDC’s AIDS task force. Until that point, testing HIV positive was a death sentence.

 

***

 

After the first AIDS Walk, Calloway, Bill Becker and Jeannine Beane formed “For Our Friends,” an organization designed to raise money for Project Open Hand Atlanta. Michael Edwards-Pruitt founded Open Hand Atlanta in 1988 to help deliver nutritious meals to members of the community who were too sick to leave their homes. Calloway compared this project to Meals on Wheels (but for individuals suffering from AIDS).

 

During my second interview with Calloway at her spacious townhouse in Atlanta, we watched a video of one of her benefits, in collaboration with The NAMES Project Foundation and “For Our Friends,” at The Roxy Theater in 1995.

 

Calloway sashayed onto the stage in a teal gown that fell below her shoulders. As she began to sing Barbra Streisand’s “As If We Never Said Goodbye,” a lump found its way to my throat.  Glancing sideways, I noticed that Calloway’s eyes were watering. This was the first time I’d ever seen her perform.

 

Calloway wrote the next song, entitled “I’m Still Here,” a snarky synopsis of her music career, from a youngster at UT through her cabaret days. As she performed, her silly facial expressions coaxed laughs out of the audience, and she strutted back and forth across the stage with the ease of a seasoned performer. Calloway lightened the mood of a potentially somber event with jokes about how much Atlanta’s Buckhead neighborhood had changed over the years.

 

“At that time, the only real hair salon was Connie Sue Day’s Curl Up and Die Beauty On A Budget,” she quipped. “The only fancy eatin’ place was the feed mill.”

 

The crowd devoured her humor, yet Calloway could barely stand watching herself perform. She jumped up and pressed fast-forward until she reached the “panel section” of the benefit, where a projector screen illuminated several quilt panels dedicated to friends and family members who had died from AIDS. Over 47,000 panels comprise The AIDS Memorial Quilt, and those introduced at The Roxy included segments for children as well as adults (many from Calloway’s cabaret days).

 

Ronnie Angelet, a friend of Calloway’s who died of AIDS in 1984, opened up to her before he passed. He said the only thing he was afraid of was that he’d be forgotten, but Calloway assured him that his memory would live on.

 

“Of course we did a panel for Ronnie.” Calloway said. “Ronnie liked his leather. So his panel was red leather and spiky necklaces.”

 

A few weeks later, I scheduled an appointment with AID Atlanta to see a portion of The AIDS Memorial Quilt for myself. The receptionist showed me to a small conference room in the corner of the building, and then she left me alone to examine the cloth. I was dismayed to see the quilt section smashed between several chairs. But as I pulled them away, I could see the care that went into each panel.

 

One panel was dedicated to Joe Deitrich from Tamaqua, Pennsylvania. He was 28 when he died. A cactus, a cityscape and the outline of Italy were stitched onto a white background. I guessed those were the places he’d visited, or perhaps he’d never had the chance.

 

Another panel memorialized Jim Hohmann. He died at 34. Two rainbows adorned the corners of the grey panel, and in the middle, his loved ones stitched “thank God we didn’t miss the dance.”

 

My favorite panel belonged to Scott C. Pealer. He was 29. Written in black marker, Pealer’s mother and father wrote him a poem.

 

“How we miss your smiling face. How we miss your happy laugh. But most of all, we miss you. You are always in our minds. And always in our hearts. We miss you and love you very much.”

 

At this point, I was glad to be alone in the conference room. Sinking down to the grimy carpet, I couldn’t imagine the pain Calloway had endured. I couldn’t imagine going through this scores of times.

 

***

 

Back in Calloway’s townhouse, she led me upstairs to her “angel room.” Posters from her benefit concerts hung on the walls, and pictures of all of her friends who died from AIDS adorned several shelves. On an opposite wall, a huge frame encased pictures of a young boy.

 

When Calloway’s brother, Maxwell, adopted three boys—Alex, Andrew and Austin—from a Russian orphanage in 1997, she went with him.  For Maxwell, Calloway’s role as a doting aunt gave him room to breathe.

 

“She’d pick up the slack when I couldn’t,” Maxwell said.

 

But in 2008–after struggling with a cocaine addiction, dropping out of school, and attempting to get his life back on track–Alex Calloway’s heart failed (it is not believed that drugs had anything to do with his congestive heart failure). He was 21, and he’d been clean for almost a year. Calloway was used to singing at her friends’ memorials, but she could not sing for Alex. In fact, she hasn’t sung since his death.

 

In my final interview with Calloway, I asked her why she’d lost her voice.

 

“People used to ask me all the time, how do you sing at your best friend’s memorial service? And I would never, ever break down” she said. “Those tributes to all those friends, I don’t know, maybe that was my preparation to realize that one day I’ll sing again for Alex.”

 

handless pic

a quick note on The Handless Maiden

In The Handless Maiden, by Mary Elizabeth Perry, the author seeks to give a voice to the Moriscas of 16th century Spain by filling the historical silence that left many “voiceless and in the shadows” (6) by using a wide range of sources. They ranged from documentary evidence (such as the Almonacid writings (20)) to archival documents to co-religious legends, as well as an interesting utilization of anthropological frameworks. The lengthy introduction of Perry’s book expounded upon many topics including historical context (4), her issues with using traditional sources from the “victors who had the power to write and preserve the reports of the past” (5), and the need to read Inquisition records “against the grain” in order to attain an indirect notion of what Moriscos, and Moriscas in particular, where experiencing during this time period (6).

When Perry delves into the more psychological, and frankly suppositional, aspects of her argument in the first half of the book, they begin with the introduction itself. For example, Perry discusses the significance of the veil Muslim women wore as part of their faith. Perry maintains that Moriscas created a paradox by wearing of this piece of fabric. Hence she contends the veil was more of a symbol, and more accurately categorizes it as, “a veil of phallocentric assumptions [that] has covered most women of the past with unquestioned assertions that they have been more pawns or passive victims…in the background far behind the ‘real’ actors in history—men with military might and political power” (9). However, throughout her book, women often transgressed gender boundaries. Though Perry’s introduction is complex and comprehensive, her thesis seems straightforward: past historians have overlooked not only the minority, but especially women (10). And in the context of the medieval, pre-modern unification of Spain, Perry’s passion to give recognition to these women is palpable. Furthermore, the author contemplates whether Moriscas were active rebels with agency or passive victims simply trying to hang-on to their cultural identity (10).

Though every chapter of The Handless Maiden contains reoccurring and repetitive elements, each offers a distinct message. Chapter One focuses on the impact of traditional Muslim architecture on Moriscos (25) and introduces the book’s namesake with the legend of Carcayona. To Perry, this legend “can be read as a metaphor for a people who suffered a major reversal in fortune and cruel punishment imposed by an unjust ruler” (21). However, the author concedes that, though this legend is pertinent to her argument, there is no way to prove that 16th century Moriscas even identified with Carayona or had access to the myth (27). Chapter Two touches on the issue of the female body as a site of defiance (probably because it was often hyper-sexualized (54)), as ritual bathing became an act of heresy (38). In Chapter Three, rising societal tensions began to politicize Moriscas’ homes as a potential sites of defiance, as women continued to speak in Arabic, teach their children about Islam, and observe holidays and domestic (food-related) rituals (69).

Chapter Four was the most powerful chapter as Perry began to use more primary sources to illustrate the desperation Moriscas must have felt to necessitate their waging war alongside the Morisco men during the rebellion of 1568-1570. Her source use from Christian soldiers who witnessed the bravery of a particular Morisca named Zarcamodinia (88-89) gave this historical work a personal touch because this woman was real and died fighting with honor. Perry underscores Zarcamodina’s gender transgression when she calls upon the 7th century legend of Yurmuk (89-91), but later admits that many of the 16th century Morisca women would have been illiterate and may not have had access to this legend either (90). Chapter Five emphasizes the loss of humanity the Moriscos experienced after they lost the rebellion. In what Perry describes as a “Journey of Tears,” the converted Muslims were dispersed by the thousands and spread across Castile (111). In official documents, they were described as “heads of,” alluding to the fact that the relocation of “people in such large numbers…must have seemed similar to sheep and cattle—less than human, but live creatures that had to be herded” (114).

Chapter Six outlines the various debates between clerical members and the Crown concerning the ultimate expulsion of Moriscos in 1609 (135-138). Additionally, Perry again mentions the context of the unification of Spain through Ferdinand and Isabella (135), and the Church’s Protestant motives for creating a religious “other” (137). In this Chapter, Perry continuously stresses the economic implications for Morisco expulsion with documentation from Spanish nobility (134). In Chapter Seven, Perry examines the ultimate treatment of the Moriscos after they Crown demanded their expulsion and their “legacy of pain” (157).

Although Perry at times makes grandiose statements (mostly in the introduction and often geared toward other historians (88)) and offers extensive supposition, her constant transparency when it comes to the limitations of her sources was exceptional and not in the least condescending. In fact, I enjoyed the mixture of archival evidence, timely myths, and anthropological analysis. Perry created a story, and though at times she may have gone overboard with contemporary feminist interpretations, she was aware of it. Because of her combination of sources and absolute honesty, I gleaned a better idea of the voice of the Morisca, even if—at times—it was a bit influenced by Perry herself.