Kneeland Youngblood, a 67-year-old founder of a black private-equity firm, Pharos Capital Group, has filed a lawsuit against multinational oil company ConocoPhillips, seeking $900 million in damages. The legal battle revolves around a 147.5-acre tract of oil-rich land in Karnes County, Texas, purchased by Youngblood’s great-great-grandfather, a freed slave, in 1889. The lawsuit claims ConocoPhillips ignored the Youngblood family’s claim to the land and favored another white family, the Korths.
The disputed land, situated in the Eagle Ford shale, one of the most productive oil regions in the U.S., has been the center of a seven-decade-old dispute. Kneeland Youngblood, a Princeton graduate, is fighting for royalty payouts on behalf of his enslaved great-great-grandfather’s descendants. The legal battle involves the Korth family, who claim ownership of the land and operate a cattle business on the ranch.
The story traces back to Louis Eckford, Youngblood’s great-great-grandfather, who acquired the land after the Civil War. Following Louis Eckford’s death in 1896, the ownership became muddled, with part passing to his wife and the rest to their nine children. The Korths, a white family, later acquired Eliza Eckford’s interest in the property as repayment for a loan, eventually claiming ownership of the 147.5-acre tract in 1939.
In 2008, oil companies expressed interest in drilling for crude oil on the land, leading to legal disputes over ownership rights. ConocoPhillips sided with the Korth family, and some Eckford heirs settled with them. It wasn’t until 2011 that ConocoPhillips informed Youngblood’s family about their co-ownership, sparking efforts to establish shared ownership rights formally.
This summer, a Texas jury confirmed the Youngblood family’s co-ownership of the oil-rich land, providing grounds for the $900 million lawsuit against ConocoPhillips. The lawsuit aims to secure royalty payouts for the Eckford descendants, highlighting the historical injustice faced by black families in Texas who were dispossessed of their land in the last century.
Kneeland Youngblood, who serves on President Biden’s Intelligence Advisory Board, emphasized the lawsuit’s significance, stating, “If it goes to a verdict, I think we can get a lot more. This is about legacy.” ConocoPhillips has denied wrongdoing in court filings.