Johnny Waits has spent most of his life in Flat Rock, a tiny community in Lithonia.
The former home of one of the predominately-black community’s leading citizens has been turned in a museum and archives containing bits of the history of the area and its residents.
Among items preserved here are family photographs, church records, small-farm equipment, personal objects such as hairbrushes and jewelry, and records from the old one-room Flat Rock School that mysteriously burned down in the 1930s.
Established in the late 1800s, Flat Rock was home to former slaves, sharecroppers, farmers and workers from the local rock quarry. In its heyday, about 300people lived there, estimates Waits. But during the Depression, Southern blacks fled places like Flat Rock for Cincinnati, Chicago and Detroit in search of jobs, education and to escape the deep-seated racism of the South.
“Knowing that slaves worked the very land we now own is so important to everyone,” said Waits, who still lives in Flat Rock, as does his mother and sisters. “The more we know our history, the more we understand ourselves. I mean, we’re still here. A lot of people left the South. We’re still here and we’re surviving.”