Black History Fun Fact Friday – Black Wall Street and the Power of Community

On June 1, 1921, in Tulsa Oklahoma, occurred just one of the worst catastrophes to ever grace the communities of Black people. It was then that the systematic destruction of years of building had made manifest in less than 24 hours. Also known as “Little Africa”, the black business district of north Tulsa lay fuming—a model community destroyed, mansions melted down to the ground, hope stretching its mournful arms forward in a desperate attempt to hold on to its dear Greenwood.

Greenwood is a neighborhood in Tulsa, Oklahoma and was one of the most successful and wealthiest black communities in the United States during the early 20th Century, popularly known as America’s “Black Wall Street” due to its financial success that mirrored Wall Street. During the oil boom of the 1910s, which gained the town such titles as “Oil Capital of the World”, the area of northeast Oklahoma around Tulsa flourished, including the Greenwood neighborhood. Home to several prominent Black businessmen, the neighborhood held many multimillionaires.

Greenwood boasted a variety of thriving businesses that were very successful up until the Tulsa Race Massacre. Not only did blacks want to contribute to the success of their own shops, but also the racial segregation laws prevented us from shopping anywhere other than Greenwood, forcing us to be in support of our own people and thus contribute to the success of our own people.

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Due to the fact that Blacks could not shop anywhere else, Greenwood became the mecca of opportunity to build up what they had been shut out of. Instead of complaining that they were not included in the all-white Newspaper, they created their own (two). Blacks were discouraged from using the new Carnegie Library downtown for example for whites, so they built their own smaller all Black branch libraries instead. Not stressing over being left out of restaurants, grocery stores, and public schools, they simply built their own on the backs of a drive toward honest entrepreneurship.

Clothes bought at Elliot & Hooker’s clothing at 124 N. Greenwood could be fitted across the street at H.L. Byars tailor shop at 105 N Greenwood, and then cleaned around the corner at Hope Watson’s cleaners at 322 E. Archer. The dollar in this community rotated 36-100 times, taking as long as a year before it left the community (today the dollar leaves the black community in less than 15mins).

These were not people who started out wealthy; they were neither businessmen nor businesswomen, but being locked out the whole of society (stripped from employment in the oil industry and from most of Tulsa’s manufacturing facilities), these men and women toiled at difficult, often dirty, jobs. They worked long hours under trying conditions, but nonetheless, it was their paychecks that built Greenwood and their hard work that helped to build Tulsa. In fact, following the massacre, the area was rebuilt and continued to thrive until the 1960s until integration came along and allowed blacks to shop in areas that were restricted before.

Let this be an example of the power of support, not just for black businesses, but entrepreneurship in general. While liking social media posts is nice, it is financial support, dedication, and consistency that ultimately helps small businesses to grow into larger businesses, to support and hire its own, to thrive and to possibly, empower an entire community.

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Black History Fun Fact Friday – Sarah Rector

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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/

CUSHING-DRUMRIGHT FIELD.

http://www.okhistory.org/index.php?full

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The Fultz Sisters

(Also find older BHFFF articles under the Page “Black History Fun Fact Friday”)

10 Commandments Statue Must be Removed from State Capitol

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For those of you who know me, you know I like symbolism and this story is very symbolic to me. For the record I’m not a Christian so this is not about religion, it’s deeper than that.

They are removing a statue that is representative of the 10 commandments. Interesting. Let that marinate.

Link to the story:

10 Commandments statue must be removed from state Capitol, Oklahoma Supreme Court rules.