Atlanta Must Reads for the Week: Muslims in America, Arabia Mountain, and the rise of Atlanta bread

Plus, Georgia State’s effort to preserve Manuel’s Tavern and Atlanta’s influence on the Democratic primary
Arabia Mountain
Arabia Mountain

Courtesy National Park Service

Jareen Imam for CNN on Muslims in the United States

For American Muslims, embracing their love of God and country has grown increasingly difficult in a time of terrorist attacks and polarizing politics. Atlanta-based Imam talks with five of them—from a hijab-wearing rapper to a medical student at Liberty University—about their faith in the face of fear:

She’ll get stares as she prays in a corner of the graduate school’s library between classes. Usually, her peers are curious. Her Christian classmates strike up conversations with her about Islam, and most of the time, they find similarities between the two faiths, rather than differences. “Meeting me and my roommate, who is also Muslim, I think it’s changing my peers’ worldviews,” she says.

Although she feels like she has dispelled a few misconceptions about American Muslims, every terrorist attack by an extremist feels like another step back. “One of the first things I thought when I heard about the San Bernardino shootings was, ‘please don’t let them be Muslim,'” she says. “It’s sad to say that out loud, but the atmosphere keeps getting worse, and I feel helpless.”

Read: ‘I am you:’ American Muslims on faith—and fear

Thomas Wheatley and Joeff Davis in Creative Loafing on Arabia Mountain

Ten years ago Arabia Mountain, Lithonia’s otherworldly monadnock (look it up, non-geologists), received its designation as one of only a few dozen National Heritage Areas in the United States. Wheatley and Davis tell the story of how the rocky moonscape was saved, the area’s diverse residents, and what its future holds:

Arabia Mountain is more than a mountain. It encompasses approximately 12 miles of nature trails and 30 miles of paved bike paths that snake through woods, pass over wetlands, and run through historic barns, ultimately linking the different sites. In addition to the diamorpha bloom and endangered plants, the area is home to DeKalb’s—and potentially metro Atlanta’s—oldest black community, Flat Rock. Just a few miles from Arabia Mountain, Trappist monks living under vows of chastity, silence, and poverty pray five times a day, tend to Bonsai trees, and sing reverent chants in an abbey they built, one wheelbarrow of concrete at a time. A leaning gray barn is DeKalb’s last remaining dairy farm landscape, a testament to a time when the county was the hub of milk and cheese cows in Georgia and the Southeast. Farms and homes built by settlers in the 1820s, including one with slave quarters, still stand. Surrounding them are the subdivisions that first spurred residents to push for preservation.

“In this particular area I feel there’s a tenacity and a survival. It comes from the land and the people,” says Mera Cardenas, executive director of the Arabia Alliance, the nonprofit tasked with overseeing the heritage area. “Living on a rock is hard. When you have people who relied on the land for a food source and you have all this rock underneath, how did they adapt? Everyone had a backyard quarry. They built a house out of it. They made the land work for them.”

Read: The Lost World of Arabia Mountain

Charlotte Druckman in the New York Times on the rise of Atlanta bread

Druckman places the spotlight on TGM Bread’s Robert Alexander, who has been on a 20-year quest to make great bread and resurrect bakeries in the South:

“What got me to bread,” starts Alexander, “is a long hike on the Appalachian Trail where I did a lot of soul-searching at the age of 20.” The formerly lost college student emerged from the footpath with a decision: he would become a chef. A month later, in the fall of 1996, he came across a copy of Dan Leader’s cookbook Bread Alone at a local bookstore in his hometown. “I saw the pictures and I don’t know how to say it any better, but I knew this is what I wanted to do.” Alexander just needed to figure out how to do it, and his minimal experience working in fast-food restaurants wasn’t going to help. Guidance came from another book, Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page’s Becoming a Chef. The “number-one takeaway” was to go to France and knock on as many doors as you have to.

“I sent out 45 letters, snail mail, and I think I got three replies,” he recalls. One was from Jaco’pain, a small village bakery with a wood-fired oven in the southeastern Rhône-Alps region of the country known as La Drôme. There he was introduced to flours made from heritage grains—or those “bred for taste”—and the difference they make in the product. “You’d walk into the bakery and immediately there was a very sweet aroma of cereal that was very pure and very powerful and just something I still remember to this day,” he describes. “That was hugely formative. But I had no intention of becoming French. I wanted to live in America.”

Read: Bringing Artisanal Baking Down South

Matthew Teague in the Guardian on Atlanta’s influence on the “SEC primary”

In the last of a four-part series on the New South and the so-called SEC Primary, the National Magazine Award-winning Teague stops in Atlanta to look at the city’s potential impact on the upcoming vote. Before that, though, he places the city into context for a British audience:

There’s a joke Southern people tell about the Georgia capital. Purgatory, they call it. Because no matter where you’re headed, you have to go through Atlanta. The city has always been the de facto capital of the South, the center of culture and commerce since railroads converged here two hundred years ago. After General William Tecumseh Sherman tore up the rails and burned the depots in the civil war, highways replaced them, and then came the world’s busiest airport, with its 100 million passengers per year. So whether you’re on a road trip across the South, or smuggling a kilo of cocaine, or campaigning for the White House, you’ll have to stop in Atlanta first. Purgatory.

I remembered this old nickname while sitting in traffic on Peachtree, watching SUVs crawl along, listening to speakers tweedle and rumble with crunk, snap, neo soul and trap—hip-hop is Atlanta’s soundtrack and biggest cultural export. Atlanta calls itself the City Too Busy to Hate, but I suspect residents may have just forgotten to hate while they were waiting for the traffic light to change at the intersection of Peachtree and Piedmont.

Read: The new south: all roads lead to Atlanta, Georgia, city of black power

Charles McNair in the Georgia State University magazine on the professor archiving Manuel’s walls

GSU’s effort to create a digital archive of Manuel’s Tavern, the iconic Poncey-Highland watering hole, has received no shortage of attention. But here, McNair explains why the project is not simply an academic exercise, but an important tool to preserve the bar’s historic relics:

How did the burger get its name? Click the Unpacking Manuel’s online archive, and it may be possible to find out. If the student sleuths do their research extensively enough, you’ll also learn how writer Jamie Iredell, who earned his Ph.D. at Georgia State, finds inspiration at Manuel’s Tavern. “Hardly ever do I walk into Manuel’s,” Iredell says, “and not run into a fellow writer, with whom I might talk over a beer about the work we’ve been clanking away at.”

Click another spot on the website wall. Learn how former Georgia Governor Roy Barnes late at night sat untroubled at the bar. “He was just a guy hanging out at Manuel’s,” says Brian Maloof. “It was pretty neat to see the governor doing that.”

Click. Learn about the Pulitzer Pack: Ralph McGill, editor and publisher of the Atlanta Constitution. Hank Klibanoff, co-author with Gene Roberts of The Race Beat: The Press, the Civil Rights Struggle, and the Awakening of a Nation. Doug Blackmon, author of Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II. Cynthia Tucker, editorial page editor at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. See work by the brilliant AJC political cartoonist Mike Luckovich or “Driving Miss Daisy” playwright Alfred Uhry. All these Atlantans graced tavern tables through the years. All are remembered in the unpacking.

Read: One for the Road