Sarah Rector Became The First Black Millionaire in The U.S. at The Age of 12

Sarah Rector’s emergence into affluence was nothing short of astonishing. A young Black girl in the early 1900s, her ascent to millionaire status defied the societal expectations and norms of her era.

Born in Taft, a predominantly Black town, in 1902, Sarah’s heritage held the keys to her unprecedented fortune. Listed as freedmen on the Dawes Rolls, her family was granted land due to their Creek Freedman ancestry, tracing back to her grandfather, John Rector.

The treaty of 1866, made with the Five Civilized Tribes, recognized this entitlement. While many might have overlooked the significance of such a grant, especially given to young girls, it was this land that would seal Sarah’s destiny.

The 159.14 acres in Glenpool, initially deemed barren and non-arable, became a financial burden due to its annual tax. Yet, a twist of fate in 1913 transformed this presumed liability into an asset. When BB. Jones struck oil on the property, producing an astounding 2,500 barrels daily, and the land’s value soared overnight.

With royalties pouring in, the Rector family’s financial trajectory experienced an unprecedented upswing.

However, the norms of that era dictated that vast sums of wealth necessitated guardianship, especially when owned by those of Native descent. Thus, under the stewardship of T.J. Porter, Sarah’s estate was integrated into the prosperous Cushing-Drumright Oil Field.

Within just a year, her royalties escalated to $11,567. To provide perspective, the initial $300 they received as royalty would be analogous to a sum of $7,000-$8,000 today, adjusting for inflation.

But Sarah’s story wasn’t just about sudden wealth. It was about navigating the complexities and potential exploitations that came with it. Many individuals in her position, especially young Black women, were often taken advantage of due to societal prejudices.

Yet, Sarah’s story stands out as one of resilience and astute financial management. With her family’s support, she navigated the intricacies of her newfound wealth, ensuring that her fortunes were not squandered.

Sarah Rector’s life serves as a testament to unexpected blessings and the significance of managing them wisely. In an era where Black millionaires were nearly unheard of, her story remains a beacon of inspiration, emphasizing the importance of resilience, tenacity, and shrewd financial stewardship.

As we reflect upon her legacy, it becomes evident that while destiny may play its cards, it’s our choices and actions that truly shape our future.

For some, it might’ve been tempting to envy the girl’s sudden prosperity. Yet, her journey captured many hearts. Gifts poured in, along with appeals for financial help and even matrimonial offers as her story spread.

Interestingly, her riches led the Oklahoma Legislature to contemplate declaring her white. Sarah, on her side, relished her affluence, indulging in first-class train rides and purchasing items of her preference.

It was inevitable that her ethnicity would stir controversy. Increasingly, voices proposed that she be recognized as white or be given a new guardian unless she found a husband. The Chicago Defender stepped into the narrative at this juncture.

The newspaper highlighted the potential mismanagement of Sarah’s fortune and her unjust treatment by white supremacists. Intrigued by her circumstances, the NAACP formed the Children’s Department.

It scrutinized cases where black children were allegedly robbed of their assets by white custodians. Booker T. Washington championed this initiative, leveraging his clout to aid the Rector family in preserving their assets.

Sarah enrolled at the Children’s School, a boarding institution affiliated with the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama in 1914, later progressing to the main Tuskegee Institute. Her assets included shares, enterprises, a boarding establishment, and a sprawling 2,000-acre riverside property.

Once firmly settled and with her wealth intact, she relocated her entire family to Kansas City, MO. There, she acquired the historic property on 12th Street, now dubbed the Rector House.

In 1920, Sarah wed Kenneth Campbell and they had three children. Their union ended in 1934, and she soon tied the knot with restaurateur William Crawford that same year. Sarah had a penchant for stylish attire and luxurious vehicles, and she hosted grand soirees.

Icons like Duke Ellington and Count Basie were among her guests. July 1967 marked Sarah’s passing, with her final resting place in Taft, her birthplace. Today, five Rector generations reside in Kansas City.

The Rector Mansion faces the peril of decay, but local endeavors are afoot to resurrect its past splendor. The Rector lineage champions Sarah’s legacy, ensuring an accurate recounting of her experiences.

In an era when opportunities for colored women were scant, Sarah’s exceptional journey warrants truthful representation. Posthumously, misconceptions and speculations regarding Sarah’s riches persist.

Numerous individuals remain unaware of Sarah Rector’s identity, leading to erroneous tales or skepticism about the Rectors’ financial origins. Documenting the lives of African-American women accurately is imperative for all historians. It’s paramount to uphold the truth about figures like Sarah Rector, for countless reasons.