The amazing story of Sarah Rector is that of a girl that was born to freed slaves in 1902 and climbed the financial ladder to become the wealthiest Black girl in America when she was only 11.
She lived with her family in Taft, a Black town in Oklahoma. Her family were members of the Muscogee Creek Nation and were formerly enslaved by the Creek Tribe Members. When the war had ended, Sarah Rector’s parents got lands allotted to them through the Dawes Allotment Act of 1887.
During the integration of the Indian Territories and the Oklahoma territory to form the State of Oklahoma, in 1907, hundreds of Black children were given 160 acres of land in the Indian Territory.
Although the lands given to other Black people were situated in infertile and rocky areas, Sarah Rectors’ land was in the middle of the Glenn Pool oil field. In the beginning, the land was worth $556.50. Her father was then in need of cash, so he rented out his daughters’ piece of land to one of the major oil companies in the February of the year 1911. The land came with a $30 yearly tax, and he had to raise money to pay it.
After two years, a well-to-do and independent oil driller named B.B. Jones produced a “gusher” on Sarah Rectors’ land, and the gates of riches were opened for the young girl and her family. The gusher produced 2,500 barrels of crude oil every day, and that meant a payment of $300 per day to the young Rector. If that $300 is equated with today’s value for the dollar, it would be within the range of $7,000 – $8,000. In the October of 1913, the barrels went up and she received $11,567.
She became very popular around the world and was famed as the richest Black person alive. Her fame was far-reaching to the point that she had four German suitors asking to marry her. Of course, they did that because of her wealth.
But with all her wealth, she and her family were still not considered worthy to take care of their growing estate. There was a law at that time that mandated every Black and Indian with significant property to be placed under white guardians. In that process, Rector was taken away from her parents and given to a white man named T.J Porter to take care of her.
The idea of Sarah Rector having a white guardian troubled many Black activists who felt that the white people were after her wealth and that she could be in danger under the care of T.J Porter. Some of the Black activists who fought to protect little Rector were the leaders of the NAACP.
The fears of the Black activists are confirmed and brought to life by the report from Blackpast.org:
“In 1914 The Chicago Defender published an article claiming that her estate was being mismanaged by grafters and her “ignorant” parents and that she was uneducated, dressed in rags, and lived in an unsanitary shanty. National African American leaders such as Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. DuBois became concerned about her welfare. None of the allegations were true. Rector and her siblings went to school in Taft, an all-black town closer than Twine, they lived in a modern five-room cottage, and they owned an automobile. That same year, Rector enrolled in the Children’s House, a boarding school for teenagers at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama.”
When Sarah Rector reached the age of 18, she was very rich. She was worth $1million as of 18 – which is worth $11million as of today. She had other investments which ranged from stocks and bonds to a boarding school, a bakery, a restaurant, and a magnificent 2,000 acres of land.
She and her family moved to Kansas City, Missouri from Tuskegee. Her home in Kansas City still stands to date and is named the “Rector Mansion”.
She lived her life out in Kansas as a celebrity and royalty, after she married Kenneth Campbell. Campbell was the second Black man to own a car dealership and was very influential like she was. They went ahead to give birth to three sons. Their romance and marriage took a bad turn and they divorced in 1930, leading Rector to remarry in 1934.
Just like every wealthy person who faces trying times in business, Rector lost a good chunk of her wealth and assets during the great depression in the United States. She died at the age of 65. At her death, she still had some oil wells and real estate holdings.