She was 10 years old when she went from being a poor negro girl to becoming one of the richest African Americans in the early 1900’s. Born and raised on a Creek Indian plantation, Sarah Rector came into millions after her leased Oklahoma land, thought to be worthless, was discovered to be flush with oil and they began extracting 2500 barrels per day.
So, here’s what happened. As a result of an agreement between the United States and the Creek Indians, Creeks, and their former slaves, were allotted a plot of land and Sarah and her family each received a portion of rock infested land making it difficult to near impossible to farm. But what was meant for her bad, turned out for her good.
After her income leaped from pennies to over $15,000 per month (considered a fortune in 1912) and her identity was revealed, the then 12 year old was bombarded with everything from loan requests to plain old handouts. Topping things off were the barrage of marriage proposals from white males even as far away as Germany.
Things got so out of hand that there were even efforts made to pass a law that would declare this brown skinned millionaire – white. The Chicago Defender reported, “the white people have become so alarmed at the enormous wealth of this young girl that they do not like such wealth belonging to a girl of Afro American blood.”
Her family was vilified in the press as claims of mismanagement and poor living conditions were leveled against them. Despite the fact that she graduated high school and attended Tuskegee University, these allegations continued until she was twenty. However, by then, she and her family had moved to Kansas City, Missouri and she purchased what would be known as the Rector Mansion.
Sarah married her first husband Kenneth Campbell around this time and had 3 sons. Along with certain “extravagances,” she was said to have purchased a limousine, hired a chauffeur and commissioned him to drive neighborhood children to a nearby elementary school.
While so many African Americans were swindled out of their land or money by the white “guardians” forced upon them, Sarah managed to own stocks, bonds, a boarding house and a bakery.
After her marriage to Kenneth Campbell ended in 1930, she married William Crawford in 1934. They are said to have owned a restaurant at which they entertained the likes of Duke Ellington and Count Basie.
It is uncertain the status of her estate by the time she passed in 1967, but Sarah Rector will forever be a proud part of our African American history.