MLK Day: Celebrating The National Heritage Area’s Civil Rights History

Famous Civil Rights figures in the Heritage Area include organizer Lucious Sanders, Councilwoman Maggie Woods and Lithonia Mayor Marcia Glenn Hunter. 

On this Martin Luther King Day, we revisit the Arabia Mountain National Heritage Area’s connection to Civil Rights and Dr. King’s legacy of nonviolence and civil disobedience. Atlanta might get the lion’s share of credit for Georgia’s Civil Rights history in the 1950s and ’60s, but Lithonia just 20 minutes outside of the state capital played a key role as well.

An article from a February 1956 issue of the Atlanta Daily World.

Like most of the South, segregation and racial discrimination were part of Lithonia’s history, affecting every part of our society. Black children and white children went to separate schools. Many businesses, churches and organizations openly discriminated against African Americans. While the Civil Rights Movement attracted national attention in Atlanta, local Lithonia activists organized protests and fought discrimination at home. David Albert, a noted Lithonia-based activist, boycotted buses and staged sit-ins at restaurants. He encouraged the community to join the NAACP and organized secret membership drives. Here’s a short list of some of the local heroes who fought and sacrificed so much for a more equal society. 

Lucious Sanders

After serving in the military in WWII, Lucious Sanders returned to a country that deprived him of basic rights as an American citizen. “I had spent four years in the U.S. Army and came back and couldn’t even register to vote,” he told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in 1984. “I started to wondering what’s wrong.”

Lucious Sanders story in the Ruth Carroll Dally Johnson Interpretive Garden next by the Lithonia Woman’s Club.

As the Civil Rights Movement began to gain steam nationally in the late 1950s and early ’60s, local Lithonians like Lucious Sanders worked for equality in their own backyards. After leading voter registration drives in DeKalb County, Sanders founded the Lithonia Civic League to continue the work of voter registration, combat racism and raise civic awareness. He also worked to found the Black-owned Lithonia Federal Credit Union and the Anna Sanders Educational Fund, which worked to increase access to education for low-income students. Sanders was the first Black member of the DeKalb County Parks & Recreation Board and sat on boards for the NAACP, the DeKalb Council on Aging, the Lithonia Business Group, and more. Sanders remained active in his community throughout his life and today is memorialized on/at the Lithonia’s Lucious Sanders Recreation Center.

Maggie Woods 

In 1972, Maggie Woods made history when she became the first African American woman to serve on the Lithonia City Council. “You don’t sit on the sideline and wait for somebody to do for you,” said Maggie. This history-defining win was made all the more impressive considering Woods also raised eight children by herself by working as a housekeeper in the Atlanta area. 

Throughout her life, Woods served her community and imbued in her children a change-making attitude. She blazed a Civil Rights trail that made it possible for her children and family to do the same. Her son Jerome Woods became Lithonia’s first Black Chief of Police, and her daughter Marcia Glenn Hunter was voted in as the city’s first Black and first woman mayor. 

Maggie Woods’ story, also in the Ruth Carroll Dally Johnson Interpretive Garden.

Marcia Glenn Hunter

Like her mother before her, Marcia Glenn Hunter was destined to be a trailblazer. Coming of age in the 1950s and ’60s, Hunter was involved in the Civil Rights movement from a young age. “My home was one of the spots where we gathered to plan our strategies because my mother was also an activist,” said Hunter. Notable visitors to their home included future Atlanta Mayor Maynard Jackson and John Shanks, the first President of the NAACP DeKalb County Branch.

Marcia and her brother Roger.

Under Hunter’s leadership, Lithonia, once the nation’s granite quarrying capital, became a certified city with the Georgia Municipal Association, which opened up more grant and funding opportunities. From those financial resources, Hunter was able to repave roads, build curbs and enhance other infrastructure. During her time as Mayor (1995 to 2003), Hunter also helped pave the way for the Lithonia Historic District and was instrumental in the creation of the Arabia Mountain National Heritage Area, where she now serves as Board Chair. 

MLK DAY Weekend 2024

We walk in the footsteps of giants. To learn more about these fascinating figures and the Civil Rights history of Lithonia, please visit the Ruth Carroll Dally Johnson Interpretive Garden next to the Lithonia Woman’s Club on Wiggins Street.

Looking for something to do this Martin Luther King Day Weekend? Click here to check out the Davidson-Arabia Mountain Nature Preserve’s slate of MLK Day events and volunteer opportunities over the long weekend.