A procession of more than 300 people ran, walked and gathered Oct. 30 in Lithonia to preserve a cemetery off Lyons Road–a place where more than 200 slaves rest.
Built in 1833, members of the Flat Rock archives and museum say the Flat Rock Slave Cemetery, nestled on a steep hillside in an affluent Lithonia subdivision, is missing a number of headstone markers, security equipment, a protective gate lacks and regular lawn maintenance.
“There are so many improvements we need to make to keep this place from being overtaken by the decay of time,” Johnny Waits said, president of the Flat Rock archives and museum, the organization that hosted the event.
“As the oldest Black town in DeKalb, the historical sites and records of Flat Rock are essential to preserving the county’s past,” Waits said of the cemetery located within the Arabia Mountain National Heritage Area.
Walking through the three-acre cemetery, Waits went on to say the cemetery has been vandalized over the years, but recently cleaned up by the Greater Atlanta Archeology Society, and mapped and studied by Georgia State University. Paperwork to get the cemetery designated as a national historic site is under review.
Helping to consecrate the cemetery for the first time, U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson, Democrat from Lithonia, spoke to the crowd who gathered at the sight of DeKalb’s oldest Black church at 4250 Flat Rock Road – torn down in 1971.
“Sometimes it takes stopping and looking back at our achievements to appreciate where we are,” Johnson said to the crowd.
“The future can look hopeless because we don’t take the time to look back, appreciate and preserve our history. It’s amazing to see the names and dates on the graves,” he added.
Established in antebellum times, Flat Rock appeared on maps in the early 1800s, however was removed after the Civil War, in 1868.
To pay homage to those buried in the cemetery, the full day of events included a visit by the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Company, the Atlanta Chapter of the Buffalo Soldiers, songs from the Georgia Geechee Gullah Shouters, and hourly tours to the Lyon South River Plantation, where participants were able to tour slave quarters and learn about the community from historians.
“It’s great to be able to bring my family out here to see the cemetery; to experience the history and culture. We’ve never seen something like this,” Renee Wright of Lithonia said, who walked with her children in the 5K Benefit Walk.
“I hope this is continued. More people need to know all about this place,” Wright said.