Eugene Keahey, Pastor Who Took Sandbranch, Texas, Fight for Running Water To National Stage, Killed in Suspicious House Fire
Keahey's dedication to Sandbranch, Texas, the unincorporated, predominantly Black town that has been without running water or clean well water for over 30 years, was clear to all who knew him and many who didn't.
Pastor Eugene Keahey, 52, his wife, Deanna Wilson-Keahey, 51, and one of their daughters died in a house fire at their Cedar Hill, Texas, home early Thursday morning, which authorities now believe was intentionally set, sparking a criminal investigation, Dallas News reports.
Another one of the Keaheys’ daughters was injured in the fire and hospitalized. Two other people in the home escaped without serious injury. Neighbors reported hearing what sounded like gunfire before the fire started, NBCDFW.com reports.
“We often talk about how our faith has to go beyond the four walls of our churches, and we shouldn’t just be praising God on Sunday mornings, and Monday through Saturday we go on about our lives,” Dawn Miller, Cedar Hill resident and Keahey family friend, told Dallas News. “[Pastor Keahey] lived that. He walked out his faith.”
I met Pastor Keahey in 2016 after reaching out to him for a story on Sandbranch, Texas, the unincorporated, predominantly Black town that has been without running water or clean well water for over 30 years. His dedication and determination were clear.
Keahey, pastor of Mt. Zion Baptist Church, was passionate about Sandbranch. He fought (and was still fighting) FEMA, Dallas County—particularly Commissioner John Wiley Price, who was indicted in 2014 on an array of bribery and corruption charges and found not guilty on 7 of 11 charges in 2017 —for years to ensure clean, running water for residents, one of whom in 1985, said, “We are too weak, too poor, and too Black for people to care.”
As previously reported, high blood pressure, diabetes and work injuries are rampant in the Sandbranch community. Though 75 percent of residents have health insurance, primarily through Medicaid, the nearest health care facility is about 35 miles away at Parkland Hospital in Dallas. And with many Sandbranch residents not having access to transportation, basic health care is a luxury.
“We’ve partnered with Texas Woman’s University and their nursing department to do health screenings every Saturday just to get blood pressure checks, diabetes checked,” Keahey said in 2016. “We can’t do a lot yet because we don’t have the facilities. We don’t have sewers or running water.”
“There are churches in Dallas County that won’t help us because [Price’s] political pull is strong,” Keahey continued. “I don’t know what he has to gain from not helping us. This guy will stand up in the court and tell white folks to ‘Go to hell.’ He’d get in front of them and say, ‘How dare you mess with my people.’
“His whole platform is our man downtown,” Keahey continued, the confusion evident in his voice. “But he’s not Sandbranch’s man downtown.”
Price’s response to Keahey: “I listen to nothing he says. He’s pimping as far as I’m concerned. They can play all the games they want to, but I’ve been doing this for 31 years.
“I understand he went down there and found a little church with 30 or 40 people there,” Price continued. “I got it. That’s, you know, that’s where he is. They found a guy that, you know, needs some points in heaven and that’s OK.”
Keahey brushed off criticism of his efforts and remained focused on the task at hand: clean water and dignity for Sandbranch residents.
“Dallas County has plenty of money, but they don’t want to spend money in this community,” Keahey said in 2016. “All we’re talking about is $2 million to bring water to Sandbranch. We pay taxes, but we have to fight the government to get a water bill.”
“Pastor Eugene Keahey believed in heaven—and he believed in Sandbranch. If this fire was intentionally set, his unapologetic advocacy in and for his community is without doubt a potential cause. And if heaven is real, Pastor Keahey should absolutely get “points” for being a drum major for truth, equity, and (environmental) justice.
ESSENCE sends it deepest condolences to the Keahey family and the Sandbranch community.
The criminal investigation into the origins of the fire is ongoing.
Click here to read my 2016 report on Sandbranch, Texas.