Sarah Rector – The Richest Black Girl In America during the 1900s

It is generally accepted that the 1900s proved to be tough and unreliable for Black people in America. Segregation was institutionalized and a class system was enacted specifically with the Blacks and Colored placed at the bottom. As a result, it was a sort of bizarre and pessimistic period for Black people to stay above ground.

Sarah Rector was born in 1902 near the black-dominated town of Taft, in the eastern portion of Oklahoma, previously identified as the Indian Territory. Born as the daughter of freedmen, Rector and her family were members and indigenes of the Muscogee Nation. The Muscogee Nation in summation is a federally recognized Native American tribe based in the American state of Oklahoma. Her Parents, Rose Mcqueen and her husband Joseph Rector were descendants of African people who had been slaves owned by the Muscogee Creek Nation before the civil war and had become part of the nation following the Treaty of 1866. The treaty among many provisions required for slavery to be abolished within the territory. They were consequently enlisted as freedmen on the Dawes Allotment Act of 1887, by which they were allotted or apportioned parcels of land. Each was granted 160 acres of land as Indian territory integrated with Oklahoma territory to form the State of Oklahoma in 1907. Sarah Rector was allocated (159.14 acres) or 64 hectares.

PATHWAY TO RICHES

Lands granted to former slaves were unattractive for farming and were rocky and rigid in the description. The better lands were reserved for white settlers. Rector’s allotment from the Creek Indian Nation was situated in Glenpool oil field, 60miles from where she and her family resided.

The Rector Family were not poor but lived as a normal middle-income family. However, the annual $30 property tax was perceived to be a pertinent financial burden to the family. Faced with financial constraints, Rector’s father leased his daughter’s parcel to Standard Oil Company in February 1911 in order to help him pay the $30 annual property tax.

In 1913, there was a major turnaround and an unprecedented boost in the financial position of Rector’s family when independent oil driller B.B Jones produced a “gusher” on her land that brought in 2,500 barrels or 105,000 gallons per day. Rector began to receive a daily income of $300 from this strike.

According to Tonya Bolden, author of Searching For Sarah Rector: The Richest Black Girl in America, Rector began earning more than $300 a day in 1913. That is equal to $7,000 – $8,000 today. Rector’s popularity skyrocketed just as quickly as her wealth. The Kansas City Star local newspaper in 1914 published the headline “Oil Made Pickaninny Rich – Oklahoma Girl With $15,000 A Month Gets Many Proposals – Four White Men in Germany Want to Marry the Negro Child That They Might Share Her Fortune”. Another newspaper dubbed her “the richest negro in the world”. At the age of 12, her fame gruesomely spread like wildfire she received countless requests for loans, money gifts, and four marriage proposals.

The law at the time required full-blooded Indians, black adults, and children who were citizens of Indian Territory with significant property and money, to be assigned “well-respected” white guardians. As a result, Rector’s guardianship switched from her parents to a white man named T.J Porter. Given her ambiguous wealth and her social recognition, in 1913, the Oklahoma legislature made an effort to have her declared white. This fostered Rector into reaping the special benefits which were set aside for only white people. One among many was riding in a first-class car on the trains.

In 1924, an African American Journal, The Chicago Defender, developed a curiosity about the well-being of Rector. This was after rumours claimed Rector was a white immigrant who was being subjected to poverty. The newspaper published an article alleging that her estate was being mismanaged by her newfound family and that she was uneducated, and had a poor quality of life. This alerted the interests of vibrant African American leaders like Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. DuBois to fuel public outcry and was concerned about her welfare. In June of that same year, an agent for the National Association For The Advancement Of Colored People (NAACP), James C. Waters Jr, sent a memo to DuBois regarding Rector’s situation. Waters had been overseeing and researching concerns and allegations revolving around the mismanagement of Rector’s estate.

Is it not possible to have her cared for in a decent manner and by people of her own race, instead of by a member of a race which would deny her and her kind the treatment accorded a good yard dog?

James C. Waters Jr wrote in the Memo

NAACP leaders eventually fought to protect her and her fortune. It is critical to note that the allegations made by black rights activists were not certain to be true.

At 18, Rector was worth an estimated $1 million which is equivalent to about $15 million today. She also possessed stocks and bonds, a boarding house, a bakery and restaurant in Muskogee, Oklahoma, and 2,000 acres of land.

Rector and her family moved to Kansas City, Missouri. She purchased a house on 12th street. The house became known as the Rector Mansion. The house is currently owned by a local nonprofit organization.

She married Kenneth Campbell with whom they had three sons before their divorce in 1930.

Rector lived a comfortable life, enjoying her fortune. She organized flamboyant parties, receiving reputable celebrities around the globe. Rector lost a huge quarter of her wealth during the Great Depression. She died at age 65 owning some working oil wells and real estate holdings.

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