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  • The Garden of Eden: The Story of a Freedman’s Community in Texas by Drew Sanders
  • George H. Junne Jr.
The Garden of Eden: The Story of a Freedman’s Community in Texas. By Drew Sanders. Fort Worth: Texas Christian University Press, 2015. ix + 194 pp. Illustrations, maps, notes, bibliography, index. $24.95 paper.

In his book The Garden of Eden: The Story of a Freedmen’s Community in Texas, Drew Sanders provides readers with the history and culture of a black community through memory, recipes, genealogy, and other available resources. Located in Tarrant County along the Trinity River, this historically black neighborhood, situated near downtown Fort Worth and Haltom City, is indicative of other similar black settlements in the West that have been enveloped or absorbed by surrounding communities. Today one might find limited information on websites such as “Vanished Towns and Communities of Tarrant County, Texas.” The Garden of Eden was also closely associated with the town of Birdville, the early seat of Tarrant County. Today, the Garden of Eden Neighborhood Association and the Birdville Historical Society have been working to ensure that the Garden of Eden will be preserved and remembered.

Like many black communities around the country, areas like the Garden of Eden were places that black people lived and were not platted. There were four other such communities in the area. In some cases, African Americans moved, were run out of their communities, had their land bought or stolen from them, or in some cases, the larger white communities surrounded them and their histories were lost. Listening to and recording stories passed down in his family and conducting other research, Sanders’s book is recovering a history with which many are not familiar.

Sanders is able to trace his family previous to the Civil War, when black and white Cheney families, slaves and slave owners, moved to Texas in 1830 to seek land for ranching and farming. At that time, the land where they settled was a part of Mexico. Other family names added to this genealogy include the white and black Boaz families and the white Lloyd family. Sanders is able to trace his lineage back to the white John Cheney (b. 1796) and an unidentified slave woman, further illuminating the topic of interracial relationships of the time. Major Cheney (b. 1856) was the product of that relationship. Major later worked for his white half-brother, John C. Cheney, indicating that the black and white Cheneys were cordial toward each other.

Following the Civil War, Major Cheney was able to purchase land that became part of the Garden of Eden in 1879. The land was fertile and eight generations grew up in the area. Cheney was illiterate but wanted his children to receive an education. Children attended all-black schools in the area until the Haltom City schools became integrated in 1965 and the Fort Worth schools in 1971. Major and his wife, Malinda, had seven children that they raised on two hundred acres of land. To demonstrate the family’s success, they built a house with a T-shaped layout, had an icebox [End Page 336] that held a one-hundred-pound block of ice, and had a two-seater outhouse. Further, the family was politically and socially active.

Like most families, the Cheneys also faced problems such as run-ins with the law on occasion. There were attempts by a company to take some of the land, assisted by the county through placing a dump near the farm. They still farmed by horses, plows, and mules into the 1940s. Although residence in the community was dwindling, they still built a brick church.

In 1948 there was another attempt to get land from the Garden of Eden through building the Joe Lewis Addition, which was to erect two hundred homes for blacks who needed housing. Unfortunately, families who signed documents agreeing to the project were evicted over a clause they did not understand. Fort Worth annexed the Garden of Eden in 1969, and by the 1980s, the substandard housing project was razed to build an auto-wrecking yard.

While much of the original site is now gone, the core remains in...


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pp. 336-337
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