The Garden of Eden: The Story of a Freedman's Community in Texas

The Garden of Eden: The Story of a Freedman's Community in Texas

The Garden of Eden: The Story of a Freedman's Community in Texas

The Garden of Eden: The Story of a Freedman's Community in Texas


Tucked in a bend of the Trinity River a few minutes from downtown Fort Worth, the Garden of Eden neighborhood has endured for well over a century as a homeplace for freed African American slaves and their descendants.

Among the earliest inhabitants in the Garden, Major and Malinda Cheney assembled over 200 acres of productive farmland on which they raised crops and cattle, built a substantial home for their children, and weathered a series of family crises that ranged from a false accusation of rape and attempted lynching to the murder of their eldest son.

Major and Malinda Cheney's great-great-grandson, Drew Sanders, recounts engaging tales of the family's life against the backdrop of Fort Worth and Tarrant County history--among them stories about the famous family Sunday dinners (recipes included).

Though some family members, including writer Bob Ray Sanders and transplant specialist Dollie Gentry, no longer live in this special place, life in the Garden of Eden still shapes the family's character and binds them to the homeplace.


As the name suggests, the Garden of Eden was always a fertile place, both in terms of its rich soil that produced bountiful vegetation for decades and in terms of the strong people who occupied the land.

But in contrast to its name—and despite the close-knit family ties that remain in place today—the garden was not always peaceful. That was due in part to it being territory in Tarrant County mostly occupied by black people, which neither Fort Worth nor Birdville (later Haltom City) wanted to claim.

By the time I came along, the last of James and Edith Sanders’s twelve children, there was a conflict of cultures, with Texas and the South still under the heel of Jim Crow but clearly on the eve of change as the nation wrestled with the issue of segregation versus integration.

My conception, which I’ve always imagined came as a surprise for my parents, who were growing older and presumably had finished with having more babies, was miraculous in many ways. the first ten brothers and sisters had come two years apart. An eleventh child, Johnny Zero, came three years after the last child and lived for only a couple of days.

My birth, coming three years after Johnny, also came nine days after the birth of my oldest nephew, Andrew James Sanders Jr., my oldest brother’s first child, who was known to many as “Bubba” and later as “Drew.” Andrew was older than his uncle, but in truth we grew up more like brothers. To this day, many people consider him my brother or at the very least my cousin—the concept of uncle and nephew just doesn’t register with them even after all these years.

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