The Story of Sarah Rector (Black History 365)

After the civil war, reconstruction, and what would subsequently become Jim Crow laws, slaves in the south were freed and lived as free Americans but still experienced disenfranchisement and some had difficulty prospering financially. However, I’ll be presenting in this episode the story of a young black girl named Sarah Rector from Taft Oklahoma who came upon a fortune that changed her life forever, but she had obstacles standing in her way.

Sarah Rector was born in 1902 in Taft Oklahoma and came from humble beginnings but she later became the wealthiest black girl in the country at the age of 11. Her family was African American members of the Muscogee Creek Nation in Indian Territory. Rector’s grandparents had been enslaved by Creek Tribe members, but once the Civil War ended, they were entitled to land allotments under the Dawes Allotment Act of 1887. Furthermore, when Indian territory integrated with Oklahoma territory to form the state of Oklahoma in 1907, hundreds of Black children who were referred to back then as “Creek Freedmen minors,” were granted 160 acres of land.

Rector’s allotment was located in the middle of the Glenn Pool oil field and was initially valued at $550. A few years later in 1911, her father decided to lease his daughter’s piece of land to a major oil company to help pay for the property taxes. And in 1913, everything would change.

According to Searching for Sarah Rector: The Richest Black Girl in America by Tonya Bolden, an independent driller struct oil that started to bring in 2,500 barrels or 105,000 gallons per day. As a result, Rector, still being an owner of the land, began earning more than $300 a day (which is equivalent to about 7,500 a day in our time).

It was inevitable with all the fortune she received that she would attract attention. Rector began getting national attention from newspapers all over the country. For instance, The Kansas City Star published the headline, “Million to a Negro Girl – Sarah Rector, 11-year-Old, Has Income of $300 A Day from Oil”. Additionally, another newspaper, The Savannah Tribune, published the headline, “Oil Well Produces Net Income – Negro Girl’s $112,000. You have to understand a black person making that much, especially at that young, would cause eyebrows to raise and white America wasted no time in relinquishing her fortune. 

As mentioned, sadly Rector’s fortune would be interfered with by the law. There was a law at the time that required Native Americans and African Americans who were citizens of Indian Territory to be assigned a “well-respected” white guardian. As a result, Rector’s guardianship was turned over to a white man named T.J. Porter. 

However, reportedly W.E.B Du Bois and the NAACP got involved to protect her well-being and fortunately were able to be successful with it. Rector, later on, to own one of the first Black-owned auto dealerships in the country, and reportedly enjoyed her wealth until she died!

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