Anderson Bonner, African-American landowner, entrepreneur, and early Dallas pioneer, was born into slavery in Alabama, most likely in the late 1830s. Census records variously indicate that he could have been born between the years of 1835 to 1839, although his headstone gives the birth year as 1843. Very little is known about Bonner’s parents, his birth, or how he came to arrive in Dallas, Texas. Family tradition holds that Bonner was given as a wedding gift to the daughter of his master, taking him from Alabama to Arkansas and ultimately to Texas. By 1870 Bonner had arrived in Dallas, along with his sister Caroline and his brother Louis, where he worked the family farm just north of White Rock Creek. According to the 1870 United States census, Bonner’s personal financial worth was valued at $275. Over the next few decades, however, Bonner was able to secure a remarkable amount of land in the Dallas area, ultimately making him a financial phenomenon of early Dallas.
One of Bonner’s earliest land transactions was on August 10, 1874, when he purchased more than sixty acres in Dallas County. He soon began supplementing his farming income by leasing out land and houses to sharecroppers. Though Bonner signed his name with an “X” on all transactions, he was apparently a shrewd businessman and possessed an entrepreneurial spirit. He continued to build his unlikely empire and ultimately ended up with nearly 2,000 acres of land, located mostly along White Rock Creek and surrounding areas in what is today North Dallas and Richardson. The land where Medical City Dallas Hospital sits, located at Forest Lane and North Central Expressway, was originally part of Bonner’s estate.
Along with his entrepreneurial legacy, Bonner also left behind an extensive family line. He and his first wife, Eliza Williams Bonner, had ten children. Census records indicate that his wife was born in Mississippi. There was no documentation available on their marriage, but the 1900 U.S. census indicated that Anderson and Eliza had been married for thirty-five years, placing their marriage date near Emancipation and the end of the Civil War. The 1900 census also reported that the couple had produced a total of ten children, six of whom were living at home.
Unfortunately, about 1903 Bonner’s wife Eliza lost her life in an oil lamp explosion. Apparently, a lamp exploded in the Bonner household and caught the structure on fire ultimately ending Eliza’s life in tragic fashion. By 1920 Anderson had married his second wife, Lucinda, who was from Waxahachie, Texas. The couple had no children of their own.
The exact date of Bonner’s death could not be determined, but several sources estimated 1920 (also the year listed on his gravestone), which would have made him around eighty-two years old. He was buried in White Rock Colored Union Cemetery (now White Rock Garden of Memories Cemetery) in Addison, Dallas County, Texas. Bonner’s descendants inherited his expansive land holdings, and in the early twenty-first century several family members still lived on the land once owned by their pioneering patriarch. Bonner’s offspring have embraced their forefather’s success and have reached out to the Dallas community in an effort to keep his legacy alive.
Harold Bonner, the great-grandson of Anderson, spoke to a group of Richardson Independent School District (RISD) students about his great-grandfather’s accomplishments during Black History Month in 2012. Harold Bonner told the students, “In spite of all odds against you, if you put forth the effort, then you can be successful in life.” Wayland Walker, community liaison for Hamilton Park Pacesetter Magnet school, noted the fact that Anderson Bonner never learned to read or write, “And yet, he became one of the biggest landholders in this area, signing his name with an X. That’s an amazing story for kids, that you can overcome anything.” In addition to inspiration, the Bonner family has contributed financially through the Anderson Bonner Endowment scholarship, which assists RISD graduates who attend Prairie View A&M University.
Bonner has also been the recipient of recognition from the city of Dallas, beginning with a school named in his honor. The Anderson Bonner School was located at Vickery and Hillcrest and served as the neighborhood’s lone African-American school until its closing in 1955 when Hamilton Park School opened. Bonner was also honored with the naming of a park. Anderson Bonner Park, located just west of Medical City Dallas, had already been a popular destination for black family gatherings even prior to World War II. Once part of Bonner’s original farm, the park included amenities such as tennis courts, bike trails, and soccer fields in 2012.