I’m really not accustomed to having culturally important landmarks in my backyard. We did have the home of Louis Bromfield near where I grew up, as well as the Ohio State Reformatory, site of the films Tango & Cash (ah yes, such a great film) and the Shawshank Redemption. OSR is no longer a maximum security prison but it is a terrifying Haunted House. Folks come from all over the Midwest and Middle Atlantic and pay to get into the place Kurt Russell and Tim Robbins worked so hard to escape. Even though organizers could get by with just handing over a flashlight and sending you into the abandoned cell block (no joke, that place is seriously creepy, and not in a Scooby Doo way) they go all out with decorating, actors and animatronics. That, on top of actually being in an old prison (lots of bad energy in those walls), makes for a really good show, if you’re into that sort of thing. So that’s my hometown’s claim to cultural significance . I had to move to Georgia just to up the ante. Now I can claim all sorts of things, including the Arabia Mountain National Heritage Area, part of which is in southeastern DeKalb County. It is one of only 49 National Heritage Areas in the United States.
There are two huge things that make Arabia Mountain so special, neither of which is that it was one of the locations for the movie Pet Sematary II. One is the ecosystem on Arabia Mountain itself. Animals such as lichen grasshoppers, marbled and spotted salamanders, coachwhip and hognose snakes, great- horned owls, deer and bobcats make their home on the monadnock. It is home to the world’s largest population of Isoetes melanospora (black spotted quillwort), a Federally protected plant. It’s also home to the rare Small’s Stonecrop, a plant that makes a living out of almost nothing. There are also the the less rare, but lovely, Sunnybells, Sparkleberry, Yellow Daisy, Fringetree and Georgia Oak.
The second reason Arabia Mountain is so special is the people. The area has been inhabited for thousands of years—Native Americans, Scots immigrants, Trappist Monks—but it is the Flat Rock community, established by freed slaves, that will be the focus of Building Common Ground: Discussions of Community, Civility and Compassion, a series of programs at the DeKalb County Public Library that will celebrate the history, diversity and preservation of the community.
Flat Rock began as a small area south of what would become I-20. It was an agricultural community bordered by three small slave-holding farms and grew after the Civil War into a bustling community of churches, schools, and civic organizations. It thrived for decades, done in finally by the Great Migration and the Great Depression. It is also the site of one of the few intact slave cemeteries left in Georgia. Today it provides a glimpse into the lives of freed slaves and their descendants.
Building Common Ground is funded by a grant from the American Library Association and the Fetzer Institute. DCPL’s partners include the Arabia Mountain Heritage Alliance, the Flat Rock Archives and Museum and Arabia Mountain High School. The four programs will be hosted by the amazing staff at the Stonecrest Library. You may also listen to interviews with community members on the Building Common Ground page conducted by StoryCorps.