This is the story of Sarah Rector (March 3, 1902 – July 22, 1967), an African American member of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, best known for being the “Richest Colored Girl in the world.”
Rector was already a millionaire by the time she had turned 18. She owned stocks, bonds, a boarding house, businesses, and a 2,000-acre piece of prime river bottomland. At that point, she left Tuskegee and, with her entire family, moved to Kansas City, Missouri. She purchased a house on 12th Street, that is still there and known as the Rector House, now run by a local nonprofit with the intention of restoration and historical and cultural preservation. The house had been purchased by her parents, Rose McQueen and her husband, Joseph Rector (both born 1881) were descendants of African people who had been slaves owned by the Muscogee Creek Nation Creek Indians before the Civil War, and which became part of the Muscogee Creek Nation after the Treaty of 1866.
The story begins with her enslaved grandparents; Her parents, Rose McQueen and her husband, Joseph Rector (both born 1881) were descendants of African people who had been slaves owned by the Muscogee Creek Nation Creek Indians before the Civil War, and which became part of the Muscogee Creek Nation after the Treaty of 1866. As such, they and their descendants were listed as freedmen on the Dawes Rolls, by which they were entitled to land allotments under the Treaty of 1866 made by the United States with the Five Civilized Tribes. Consequently, nearly 600 black children, or Muscogee Freedmen minors as they were called, were granted land allotments, and Sarah Rector was allotted 159.14 acres (64 hectares). This was a mandatory step in the process of integration of the Indian Territory with Oklahoma Territory to form what is now the State of Oklahoma.
The land they were given was useless hard-scrabble, hardly worth the taxes they owed on it. The parcel allotted to Sarah Rector was located in Glenpool, 60 miles (97 km) from where she and her family lived. It was considered inferior infertile soil, not suitable for farming, with better land being reserved for white settlers and members of the tribe. The family lived simply but not in poverty; however, the $30 annual property tax on Sarah’s parcel was such a burden that her father petitioned the Muskogee County Court to sell the land. His petition was denied because of certain restrictions placed on the land, so he was required to continue paying the taxes.
To help cover this expense, in February 1911, Joseph Rector leased Sarah’s parcel to the Standard Oil Company. In 1913, the independent oil driller B.B. Jones drilled a well on the property which produced a “gusher” that began to bring in 2,500 barrels (400 m3) of oil a day. Rector began to receive a daily income of $300 from this strike. 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. Thus, as soon as Rector began to receive this windfall, there was pressure to change Rector’s guardianship from her parents to a local white resident named T.J. (or J.T.) Porter, an individual known to the family. Rector’s allotment subsequently became part of the Cushing-Drumright Oil Field.
In October 1913, when Sarah was only 12-years-old she received royalties of $11,567 (over $284,000 in today’s money). In 1914, she paid more income taxes in the state of Oklahoma than any other resident — and she was only 12. The Oklahoma legislature went so far as to declare Sarah Rector a white person.
“The Law” at the time, being assigned “well-respected” white guardians. As news of Rector’s wealth spread worldwide, she began to receive requests for loans, money gifts, and marriage proposals, despite the fact that she was only 12 years old. Given her wealth, in 1913 the Oklahoma Legislature made an effort to have her declared white, under the guise of allowing Rector to reap the benefits of her elevated social standing, such as riding in a first class car on the trains. More importantly, however, as a white woman, white men could legally propose to, marry, and seize control of Rector’s land and finances, thereby appropriating her wealth to the white community.
I find this at the heart of political hypocrisy. Then as now, money was the motivating factors.
This link provides a lot more about her life while attending school, like attempted abductions for ransoms, not just her but other Creek “freedmen” child landowners, which included murders. Her own uncle tried to “wrestle” control once they moved to Missouri where laws were different. By this time Sarah had graduated from high school and could manage her affairs without an “assigned” guardian. All petitions and allegations seemed to stem from pure grafters’ greed and the courts refused the applications.
National African American leaders Booker T. Washington and W. E. B. DuBois became involved with newspaper reports of possible abuse by those assigned for her welfare. A special agent for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), James C. Waters Jr, sent a memo to Dubois regarding her situation. Waters had been corresponding with the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the United States Children’s Bureau over concerns regarding the mismanagement of Rector’s estate. This prompted Dubois to establish the Children’s Department of the NAACP, which would investigate claims of white guardians who were suspected of depriving black children of their land and wealth. Washington also intervened to help the Rector family. In October of that year, she was enrolled in the Children’s School, a boarding school at the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, headed by Washington. Upon graduation, she attended the Institute.
In her later life, Sarah enjoyed her wealth living a comfortable life. She had a taste for fine clothing and cars, and drove a green and black Cadillac and other expensive vehicles (which, in addition to the Cadillac, included a silver-plated Lincoln and a chauffeur-driven Rolls Royce). She had lavish parties, entertaining celebrities such as Count Basie and Duke Ellington. There are no records of any philanthropy, but given her life extremes as a child and those who tried manipulating her wealth, it is no surprise that she did not seek publicity. But because of those who did care, laws were changed and strengthened to provide protections for children, particularly black and indigenous children, that previously did not exist. Sarah was one of the lucky ones, because of interventions by the NAACP and honest guardians. Most other children did not come through unscathed.
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