#FreedmenHistorySpotlightSaturday: Sarah Rector

Did you know that the richest Black person in the world in 1915 was a 10-11 year old Creek Freedgirl? By 1915, Sarah Rector was worth over $25.5 million dollars in today’s dollars.
She made an income twice as high as President Woodrow Wilson in 1914. Her income and wealth got to be so high that the state of Oklahoma’s white-dominated legislature attempted to pass a law reclassifying Sarah Rector as white.
Further, following her acquisition of wealth, she received marriage proposals from white men in the United States and around the world, at a time when interracial marriage was illegal, and at a pre-pubescent age.

Where did her wealth come from?
Her land allotment—which was originally considered to be of low value due to its lack of fertile ground—ended up being one of the most profitable land allotments in Oklahoma. Her land included vast oil wells that increased her wealth as a minor.
Although her land allotment had profitable oil wells and she was the wealthiest Black person in the world, she still lived in abject poverty for much of her childhood. In the summer of 1915, she lived in a “two-room box house on an Oklahoma prairie” with seven family members.
She slept on an armchair every night and her siblings slept on the floor. Despite her land allotment’s natural resources, she had no access to her wealth.

Instead, she was managed by a series of white male “guardians,” who were able to make decisions about how to invest
and spend her money and made decisions about her living arrangements. As described in a 1915 article in the Sapulpa Herald, “nearly all guardians, especially of big estates, are white men.” As guardians, white men invested Freedchildren’s land and wealth in ventures that would
benefit them personally and would also often sell Freedchildren’s land allotments without any consultation with their families. Through the implementation of minor guardianship laws, Freedpeoples’ land was controlled and managed by non-Native white men and Freedmen continued to
live in poverty, no matter the profits that their land allotments may have made.

Eventually, a judge required Sarah Rector’s guardian to arrange proper education opportunities and an upgraded home for her. She eventually moved to Kansas City, where she started a family and
enjoyed her wealth in her adulthood, outside of the bounds of guardianship laws.

Her acquisition of wealth demonstrates how land allotments greatly shaped Freedpeoples’ lives, as they were both able to gain unprecedented amounts of wealth from oil and also be forced to be under
the control of white male “guardians.” Further, the legislature’s reaction to her wealth demonstrates the importance of controlling Black wealth in enforcing and establishing white supremacy in Oklahoma.
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