Welcome Back to Black History Fun Fact Friday!
Since the return of Black History Fun Fact Friday, I will be merging Lost to History: Unfamiliar Faces with BHFFF. I mention Lost to History because this story is definitely one of an unfamiliar face. I introduce to you Sarah Rector who was just eleven when she received international attention. Why? Because she was a millionaire!
In 1913, The Kansas City Star publicized the headline, “Millions to a Negro Girl.”
Sarah was born on March 3, 1902 in Twine, Oklahoma on Muscogee Creek Native American land. Both Sarah’s mother and father had enslaved Creek Ancestry, and therefore were the former property of Native American or “Indian” slave owners. The Dawes Act of 1887 was created by the United States in an attempt to “bridge the gap” concerning their acquisition of Indian Land. Authorized to survey American Indian tribal land and divide it into allotments for individual Indians and their families, Native Americans were offered U.S. Citizenship in return (Wait, how do you take someone’s land and then offer it back in exchange for something they already had…but I digress). This portion of land included land for their former slaves.
So, in 1907, The Dawes Allotment Act divided the land among the Creeks and their former slaves and thus Sarah and her family all received land.
“Long before the births of Sarah and her three siblings, the Creek Nation agreed with the federal government to emancipate their 16,000 slaves, giving them citizenship in their nation and entitling them to equal interest in soil and national funds. They became known as Freedmen.”
– Steve Gerkin, The Unlikely Baroness
One fact this story brings to light is the ownership of blacks as slaves by the Five Civilized Native American Tribes, The Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek and Seminole Nations all had blacks as Slaves, a fact not many people know or that many promote in the same ways as the European enslavement of blacks. In fact, Sarah and her family held a rich history as the enslaved of the Creeks:
“Sarah’s father Joe Rector was the son of John Rector, a Creek Freedman. John Rector’s father Benjamin McQueen, was a slave of Reilly Grayson a Creek Indian. John Rector’s mother Mollie McQueen was a slave of Creek leader, Opothole Yahola. Their history is a rich one. The son Joe was enrolled with them on the same card.”
– Angela Y. Walton-Raji Educator, Genealogist, Author & Researcher
Per the Act, a head of a family would receive a grant of 160 acres and this is what Sarah and her family received. “The Creek Nation was sliced up into 160-acre squares, “more or less,” and doled out to the Natives and former slaves; each received 120 acres for agriculture and 40 acres for homesteading.” (Gerkin)
This is when the story gets interesting concerning Sarah’s portion.
To help with taxes on the land, Sarah’s father leased her portion to the Devonian Oil Company of Pittsburgh, and in 1913, everything changed when it struck gold. The oil was booming, bringing in 2500 barrels a day, bringing Sarah $300 a day. Multiple new wells were productive, and Rector’s portion became part of the Cushing-Drumright Field in Oklahoma, “The most prolific early oil field in Oklahoma discovered in Creek County about twelve miles east of Cushing and one mile north of present Drumright.” (Oklahoma Historical Society)
As word of Sarah and her wealth circulated, many people sought to ask for her hand in marriage, acquire loans and perhaps the most bizarre, is her change in identity. Sarah went from a young black girl to a white one.
Being that this was the early 1900s after all, many whites could not accept that someone like Sarah could have so much money. Thus, many began to seek to change her from black to white. Even more, Sarah’s guardianship, like our story last week, also changed, switching from her parents to a white man named T.J. Porter.
An article published in 1914 by The Chicago Defender claimed that Sarah was being ill cared for by her “ignorant” parents, that she was uneducated, dressed in rags, and lived in unsanitary conditions.
On the contrary, Sarah and her siblings attended an all-black school in an all-black town (Taft, a town in Muskogee County, Oklahoma) in a five-room house. Rector would also go on to attend Children’s House, a boarding school for teens at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, now Tuskegee University. This could have something to do with her acquaintance with men like Booker T. Washington, founder of Tuskegee, (using his fundraising capabilities and negotiating skills, Washington purchased an abandoned plantation of 1,000 acres. The plantation became the nucleus of Tuskegee Institute and Tuskegee University’s present campus), and W.E.B. Dubois.
Sarah left Tuskegee when she turned eighteen and moved to Kansas City, Missouri with her family. By now she was a full-fledged millionaire owning a Busy Bee Café, boarding house and bakery, stocks and bonds. As Sarah’s money increased, so did her male suitors. At twenty she married Kenneth Campbell and together they had three sons. The couple divorced and she married again, this time to William Crawford.
Sarah Rector died on July 22, 1967 at 65. Though there is much speculation on the remainder of her life I believe that because she is not as known as some, that Sarah shielded herself and her family from the spotlight as much as possible. After the false claims and accusations concerning her identity her life seemed to fade away in the background. She went on to college and afterward moved to a different state where her and the family lived in what is known as The Rector Mansion today.
Despite account of a lavish lifestyle and a wealth that diminished, with articles such as the one to your left (or above if you’re mobile) stating that Sarah has been “found”, I believe she purposely spent her life away from the public eye as much as possible. Whether or not she was truly happy and no longer being taken advantaged of is hoped for, but cannot be verified.
Sources: Special to The Chicago Defender
The Chicago; Nov 15, 1913; ProQuest Historical Newspapers The Chicago Defender (1910 – 1975)
Remembering Sarah Rector, Creek Freedwoman
http://african-nativeamerican.blogspot.com/2010/04/remembering-sarah-rector-creek.htmlThe Unlikely Baroness by Steve Gerkin http://thislandpress.com/2015/03/24/the-unlikely-baroness/
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(Also find older BHFFF articles under the Page “Black History Fun Fact Friday”)