Sarah Rector was born to Rose McQueen and Joseph Rector in 1902, near an all-black town of Taft. Her parents were descendants of Africans enslaved by the Muscogee Creek Nation Creek Indians ere the Civil War. At the time, Rector’s mother and father, as well as their descendants, were all listed as “freedmen,” a term which used to indicate formerly enslaved individuals who have since been freed from slavery, frequently through the course of law. Thus, this entitled them to land allotments under the Treaty of 1866 created by the United States with the Five Civilized Tribes. So, Rector along with almost 600 Black children (also known as Muscogee Freedmen minors) was awarded these allotments. Rector, who was quite young, was handed 159.14 acres (64 hectares) of land, and this ended up making her the richest Black girl in the country.
What was considered “inferior infertile soil,” was awarded to Rector as it was not suitable for farming. During that time, better land was typically reserved for White settlers and other members of the tribe. The infertility of the land turned out to be quite a burden for the Rector family even though they lived simply. They had to pay an annual property tax of $30 for the allotted land and Joseph even went so far as to petition the Muskogee County Court to sell the land. But the petition was declined due to restrictions placed on the land and to keep up with the tax payments, Rector’s father sold the plot to the Standard Oil Company. It was in 1913 when the independent oil driller B.B. Jones drilled a well on the property that the Rectors fortune turned around.
This led them to an oil “gusher,” which allowed them to harvest 2,500 barrels of oil a day. From this alone, Rector managed to earn a daily income of $300. Back in the early 1900s, full-blooded Indians, Black adults, and children who were citizens of Indian Territory with significant money and property were required to be assigned “White guardian” as per law. As Rector’s income grew, she too was pressurized to officially change her guardianship from her parents to a local white resident named T.J. (or J.T.) Porter, a man known to the family. Subsequently, her allocation became part of the Cushing-Drumright Oil Field.
The news of Rector’s wealth began spreading far and wide and it even spread overseas. She just 12 at the time, but began receiving marriage proposals, requests for loans, and money gifts. In 1913, the Oklahoma Legislature attempted to have her declared White so that the young girl could obtain the benefits of a higher social standing, including traveling in first-class cabins on trains and riding in first-class cars. Along with the news of her newfound wealth rumors about her life began to circulate. Local newspapers said that Rector was a White immigrant who was being kept in poverty.
They even claimed that her estate was being mismanaged by her family and argued that she was an uneducated girl who was leading a poor quality of life. Soon Rector’s story reached National African American leaders Booker T. Washington and W. E. B. DuBois, who quickly became concerned about her welfare. DuBois received a memo regarding the Rector’s situation in June 1914 from James C. Waters Jr., a special agent for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). “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?” wrote Waters Jr. in the memo of her White financial guardian.
After reading this, Dubois promptly established the Children’s Department of the NAACP, which eventually went to investigate the claims that White guardians were depriving Black kids of their wealth and land. Washington too jumped in to help Rector and her family and by October of the same year, the young girl was enrolled in the Children’s School, a boarding school at the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama which was headed by Washington. Upon her graduation, she attended the Institute, and by the time she returned home Rector was 18 and a millionaire. The teenager owned bonds, stocks, businesses, a boarding house, and a 2,000-acre piece of prime river bottomland.
Over time, she left Tuskegee and moved to Kansas City, Missouri along with her family. They purchased a house on 12th Street, which is currently under the ownership of a local nonprofit that intends to restore and preserve its historical and cultural significance. The house is known as the Rector House. As for Rector, she went on to marry Kenneth Campbell in a small, private wedding ceremony. The couple had three sons before they divorced in 1930. Rector lived a comfortable life and had a taste for fine clothing and cars. She hosted lavish parties and entertained celebrities including Duke Ellington and Count Basie. In 1967, she passed away and her remains were buried in the city cemetery of her hometown of Taft.
This content was originally published here.