by Daniel Johnson
November 30, 2023
Youngblood alleges the land was purchased by his ancestors, who were freed slaves.
Dallas magnate Kneeland Youngblood is suing oil and gas conglomerate ConocoPhillips, claiming that the company is allegedly depriving his family of a $900 million tract of oil-rich land. Youngblood alleges that the tract was purchased by his ancestors, who were freed enslaved people. According to The Wall Street Journal, Youngblood’s suit may be a long shot, but he believes in his prospects, telling the outlet, “If it goes to a verdict, I think we can get a lot more.”
The land is located in the Eagle Ford shale, one of America’s more productive oil regions. Youngblood and his family say that ConocoPhillips disregarded their claims to the land, instead accepting the claims of another family, the Korths, so the company could streamline payments and get drills in the ground as quickly as possible.
Although there have been oil booms all across Texas, few of them have resulted in gains for Black Texans, primarily because of the dispossession of their lands during the Jim Crow era. Youngblood’s ancestors, the Eckfords, got the land after their freedom from slavery, but their claim to the land became as clear as mud after their deaths.
Youngblood told The Wall Street Journal, “This is about legacy.”
Over the summer, Youngblood received a boon from a jury in Texas, which said that his family co-owned the land in question that the Korth family had been on since WWII. According to a lawyer for the family, Youngblood’s lawsuit will be heard in another court, but Christopher Kulander, professor at South Texas College of Law Houston, says the claim seems excessive to him because the tract of land in question is only 147.5 acres. Kulander also noted ConocoPhillips took the path of least resistance by only accepting the claims of the Korths because it meant they had fewer families to work with and less of a barrier to the oil contained within the land.
The case exposed Youngblood to his family tree, as much of his family had been lost to him due to the passage of time. His cousin, Stella Marks, a lawyer, represents the family’s interests along with a Houston lawyer the family hired. In court, however, the case is treading carefully around race, focusing instead on property ownership. Youngblood explains, “We’re not here to relitigate the Civil War.”
Youngblood’s pursuit of a $900 million judgment is not really for him, he told The Wall Street Journal, but he recognizes how transformative it could be for the rest of his family. “Regardless of the judgment, it’s not going to change my life,” Youngblood said. “But for many of my relatives, it could be transformative.”
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