The Blanks/July Family
Before the Civil War ended in the 1850s and early 1860s, family patriarchs John Blanks and Sampson July migrated to Coahuila, Mexico, in search of employment and freedom from enslavement. John and his wife, Tracia Darling Blanks, left Kerr County in Central Texas to cross the southwestern border for a better life. Sampson, like John and Tracia, was based in Coahuila, Mexico, in a town called Nacimiento. Sampson had arrived there with the great African American freedom fighter John Horse in 1849. John Horse, accompanied by Sampson and the Black Seminoles from Florida, was working closely with the Mexican government to provide security from opposing Natives in exchange for guaranteed freedom, money and land in Northern Mexico.
The US government offered a similar deal to John Horse and the Black Seminoles in 1870, five years after the Civil War ended. At that time, there was hostility on the border, and the US needed high-level expert help securing its southwestern territory. John Horse agreed to the deal with the US Federal Government, and in 1870 they made their way to Fort Duncan (Eagle Pass, Texas). In 1872, they relocated to Fort Clark (Brackettville, Texas) and Camp Del Rio, where they successfully accomplished their mission of stabilizing the international border region in Southwest Texas. In spite of the Black Seminoles’ efforts and accomplishments, the US government failed to honor their promises, leaving the Black Seminoles with no land of their own and no place to go when they disbanded in 1914.
After the disbandment, Sampson July spent the rest of his days trying to get the US to honor the land agreement for his descendants. However, the federal government reneged on their original agreement and forced the remaining Black Seminole family members to leave Fort Clark, where they had been based for over 40 years. To this day their descendants still live in and visit the region. These Freedom Fighters’ remains are in a small Black Seminole cemetery in nearby Kinney County.
Sampson’s daughter, Leona July Blanks, born in 1900, met John Blanks’ son, Roscoe Blanks, born in 1888, when the two of them were living in the state of Coahuila, Mexico. Leona lived there with her mother in northern Mexico, and Roscoe lived in the same region with his parents, John and Tracia. Leona and Roscoe eventually got married and moved north across the international border, settling in Del Rio, Texas, where they had 11 children. Many of their descendants still live in Del Rio and Brackettville today.
Leona and Roscoe’s youngest child, Sidney Blanks, is considered Del Rio’s native son and the first modern-era legend of the area. He broke the color line in Texas college football in 1960 when, at Texas A&I University (Now Texas A&M Kingsville), he became the first African American to play football on a full scholarship at an integrated college or university. Sidney’s nickname, SugarBear, is also the inspiration for the name of this beautifully preserved and restored estate.
The property is a reflection of the importance of family, resilience, sustainability, survival, peace and care for others. These hallmarks were established by the community and the family members who originally settled in the area.
Learn more about Leona July Blanks by reading Tracing Your Roots: My Black Ancestors Were Indian Scouts by Henry Louis Gates Jr. and NEHGS Senior Researcher Meaghan E.H. Siekman.