Celebrating Juneteenth

Above: The Board of the Arabia Mountain Heritage Area Alliance at Vaughters’ Farm. (Please note that this photo was taken prior to social distancing requirements.)

In 2020, the celebration of Juneteenth – the holiday honoring the end of slavery in the United States – takes on special significance, given the ongoing protests against racial injustice across the country.

Below is the official statement of the Arabia Mountain Heritage Area Alliance, the nonprofit partner of the National Heritage Area, about our current (and historic) moment.

Dear Friends and Supporters of the National Heritage Area,

The history of race in America is both marred and defined by conflict and inequality. This national fault line has broken open again with the recent murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery. While Floyd’s death was the final spark that has ignited sweeping protests against police brutality and racial inequality across the country, the roots of the conditions people have been protesting stretch far beyond his death. The twin concepts of race and racism, sadly, are older than the country itself, woven indelibly into the fabric of our nation. As individuals and as members of a historic and cultural institution, we acknowledge the demons of our country’s darkest moments and stand, unreservedly, with those protesting this injustice.

As a National Heritage Area, understanding, interpreting, and promoting a full and honest understanding of the past is at the center of what we do. That includes the injustices of history, from the enslavement of the Flat Rock ancestors – including at the Lyon Farm – to the institutions of segregation and Jim Crow that have defined the landscape of the South. Today, we work to tell that story and provide resources for anyone who seeks to know the past. Understanding our history is essential, given the past’s clear ability to explode into the present.

The stories of the National Heritage Area are not only stories of injustice — woven into that same fabric are stories of resilience, perseverance and, like now, bold and creative activism. Let recent events challenge you to connect deeper with one another and with communities of color that shine the light for communal survival and the collective power of people.

In Flat Rock, for example, even as many Black residents fled the racial terror of the South, leaders such as T. A. Bryant, Sr. worked to keep the community together. Flat Rock’s existence as a community – a successful, even prosperous community with a school and church and farms – was in defiance of the institution of Jim Crow law. Today, Flat Rock is one of the oldest African-American communities in Georgia. Simultaneously, in Lithonia, members of the city’s African-American community took part in the national Civil Rights movement, registering voters, participating in marches, and directly confronting racism. These leaders – such as Maggie Woods, Lithonia’s first Black city councilwoman; and Lucious Sanders, a local Civil Rights leader – knew that local and national issues are inseparable: to be involved in one is to be involved in the other. Furthermore, a full reckoning of our history and the people who shaped it is a central part of the movement towards justice. Today, the NHA is a culturally significant landscape inspired by the intersection of history and nature, sparked by the will of its most impassioned inhabitants during difficult times. 

The landscape of the Arabia Mountain National Heritage Area stands open and waiting for everyone who wants to explore the past, and the present that past is shaping. Take advantage of the opportunity to experience one of Georgia’s oldest Black communities, view the historic ruins of the first substantial school for African Americans in DeKalb County, or stroll miles of scenic mountain trails where African-American laborers once produced granite for major cities across the US. Start your journey at the Lithonia Woman’s Club, where we remember the leaders like Lucious Sanders and Maggie Woods, who dedicated their lives to making a more just future. These are places that call us all, that welcome us equally and give life to our experiences as people. Out of chaos, we can relearn new ways to value ourselves and, more importantly, to keep our word to the generations that will do differently. Our lives together can become the stories others want to retell and relive. The National Heritage Area supports those calling for change and stands ready for all who seek to understand how we got here, as we take the first steps towards a different tomorrow.

Begin your exploration of the Arabia Mountain National Heritage Area at the Ruth Carroll Dally Johnson Interpretive Garden, located at 2564 Wiggins Street in downtown Lithonia. This garden celebrates Lithonia’s leaders throughout the years, including people like Maggie Woods and Lucious Sanders who fought for Civil Rights.