The Flat Rock area in Lithonia, Georgia is home to one of metro Atlanta's oldest African American communities. Located just 25 minutes east of Atlanta, Flat Rock has a rich history of self-determination, self-sufficiency and survival.
Enslaved persons were first taken to the Flat Rock area in the early 19th century. Many Africans were first taken by force to US states such as Virginia and South Carolina before being transported by their European captors to Georgia.
Georgia became a major force in the slave industry due to the vast agricultural resources available at that time. Cotton, of course, being the most significant part of this equation.
Africans were taken from countries including Senegal, Angola, Nigeria, Cameroon, and Ghana. In In Search of Our Roots How 19 Extraordinary African Americans Reclaimed Their Past, author Henry Gates Jr. says Professor Linda Heywood and John Thornton (of Boston University) 'recently estimated that about fifty ethnic groups in Africa primarily made up the body of slaves who became the ancestors of the African American people.'
These ethnic groups account for the ancestry of a large portion of Flat Rock area African American residents who are directly descended from enslaved Africans.
David Eltis, author of The Rise of African Slavery in the Americas, directed the compilation of the Trans- Atlantic Slave Trade Database. This database is largely made up of records maintained by the various shipping companies who were at the heart of the trans-atlantic slave trade. Eltis' database has become an indispensable reference for those researching the ethnicities of Africans shipped off to the 'new world'.
Research can also be conducted at the Flat Rock archive. The Flat Rock archive is housed in long-term resident Reverend T.A. Bryant’s former home. He donated the cozy four-roomed house, which is now a museum dedicated to preserving the history of Flat Rock. Bryant and fellow Flat Rock resident Johnny Waits hope to use the archive as a resource for educating the public about this important part of the region. The Flat Rock archive houses historical maps, photographs and documents dating back as far as 1822.
There is also the Flat Rock slave cemetery- DeKalb County’s oldest- with Native American burial sites also, some believed to date back to the Archaic period (3,000-1,500 B.C.E)
Today Flat Rock resembles a typical unadorned southern neighborhood. Sturdy single-level homes punctuate the green, spacious landscape. Arabia Mountain is within walking distance. The 1822 Lyon family Plantation is within walking distance too, its cramped slave quarters still intact.
Even now- some 145 years after slavery- many Flat Rock residents are still related to each other, their bloodlines flowing from the same African source.
In Search of Our Roots How 19 Extraordinary African Americans Reclaimed Their Past by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. (published 2009)
The history of DeKalb County, Georgia, 1822-1900 by Vivian Price (published 1997)