With the recent buzz and debate over America’s soon to be youngest ‘ self-made’ billionaire, Kylie Jenner, it makes sense to unearth other notorious rags to riches stories, especially those tied to the country’s African American history.
Meet Sarah Rector, ‘America’s youngest African American millionaire’, who was considered to have been the richest black child known in the world at that time. Her rise to riches and fame is probably one of the most fascinating and insightful stories ever told.
Rector was born in Indian Territory on March 3, 1902. According to sources, she was considered “colored” though not African American. Her parents were owned by Creek Indians before the Civil War. As the site US Slave explains, she and some 600 other black children were entitled to land allotments as the children of enslaved people belonging to Creek Nation. Why?
“In 1866, the Creek Nation signed a treaty with the United States government promising to emancipate their 16,000 slaves and incorporate them into their nation as citizens entitled to “equal interest in the soil and national funds.” Two decades later, the federally imposed Dawes Allotment Act of 1887 sparked the beginning of the “total assimilation” of the Indians of the so-called Five Civilized Tribes by forcing them to live on individually-owned lots of land instead of communally as they had done for centuries,” the site explains.
But these lands often granted to former slaves were usually worthless, ‘inferior, infertile, and rocky’, while fertile lands were reserved for white settlers. In fact, believing that it was worthless, Rector’s father even petitioned the court to sell the land as the family could not pay the $30 annual property tax.
Fortunately, his petition was denied by the Muskogee County because of certain legal restrictions. He then decided to lease the land to the Standard Oil Company where independent oil driller, B.B. Jones, found a “gusher” bringing in 2500 barrels. Little Rector began receiving an income of $300 per day (over $7,000 today).
This development came as a surprise to everyone, especially U.S. government officials, as they discovered that some land allottees like Sarah Rector had crude oil and other minerals underneath the soil. Rector quickly came to public light.
Local newspaper, The Kansas City Star, publicized its headline,“Millions to a Negro Girl – Sarah Rector, 10-Year Old, Has Income of $300 A Day From Oil,” in September 1913. In January 1914, the newspaper continued with the story, “Oil Made Pickaninny Rich – Oklahoma Girl With $15,000 A Month gets Many Proposals – Four White Men in Germany Want to Marry the Negro Child That They Might Share Her Fortune.” The Savannah Tribune also wrote, “Oil Well Produces Neat Income – Negro Girl’s $112,000 A Year”.
According to records, Rector’s guardianship switched from her parents to a white man named T.J. Porter. She also received numerous requests for loans, money gifts, and even marriage proposals from Germans. The Oklahoma Legislature also shockingly declared her to be a white person due to her wealth.
Nonetheless, Rector forged ahead. Once 18, she left Tuskegee and moved to Kansas City, Missouri with her family into what is known as the Rector Mansion. Sources say she was a millionaire by then, owning stocks and bonds, a boarding house and bakery and the Busy Bee Café in Muskogee, Oklahoma, as well as 2,000 acres of prime river bottomland. But press soon turned from the novelty of her riches to reports of legal and financial woes, including mismanagement.
America’s youngest millionaire died at age 65 on July 22, 1967, in Missouri, leaving behind three sons. Sources say “her wealth was diminished, but she still had some working oil wells and real estate holdings”.