“Until the lioness learns to write, history will continue to be written by the hunter.”
Much of the history of enslaved Blacks under the so-called Five Civilized Tribes is unknown to millions of Americans, especially the individual stories of the former slaves of the Creeks, Cherokees, Chickasaws, Choctaws, and the Seminoles.
Even more less known is the history of Black children in America during slavery, Reconstruction, Jane Crow segregation, and life of enslavement under the Five Civilized Tribes.
Here is an excellent article by Ms. Stacey Patton on the late Sarah Rector, a Black child who was a millionaress due to oil found on her land in the state of Oklahoma, in the early part of the last century. (What was not surprising to me is that the land allotted to Ms. Rector was considered worthless, but, then the joke was on those who thought they got the best of her as they had done so many other ex-FCT nation slaves.)
Ms. Patton chronicles the unscrupulous White men who lusted after Ms. Rector’s fortune, how Ms. Rector avoided the snares of those who would have killed her for her money, and how she went on to hold onto her fortune as a child/young person, when so many Black people in her position were swindled out of land, money, assets—–as well as had their lives taken by gold-digging Whites.
We do not know what happened to Ms. Rector’s fortune in her later life, nor what life was like for her in her declining years. More needs to be learned of Ms. Rector’s later life, and Ms. Patton is doing further research to preserve the memory of this little rich girl of whom this country and the world knows so little of.
SARAH RECTOR: THE RICHEST COLORED GIRL IN THE WORLD
Posted By The Editors | February 18th, 2009 |
By Stacey Patton
“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.” This headline, which appeared in The Kansas City Star on January 15, 1914, was just the first of many newspaper and magazine headlines during the next decade about Sarah Rector, the richest black child known to the world in that era.
In September, 1913, The Kansas City Star reported: “Millions to a Negro Girl – Sarah Rector, 10-Year Old, Has Income of $300 A Day From Oil,” and The Savannah Tribune ran: “Oil Well Produces Neat Income – Negro Girl’s $112,000 A Year.”
In 1914 and 1915, the Salt Lake Telegram, The Oregonian and American Magazine profiled the “bewildered little ten year-old girl” and told of how she inherited her “big income” but still wore tattered dresses and slept each night in a big armchair beside her six siblings in a two-room prairie house in Muskogee, Oklahoma. By the early 1920s, many newspapers covered the court battles involving white men seeking to become Rector’s guardian to gain control over her estate.
She was one of a group of Creek freedman children who were given land allotments by the U.S. government as part of the Treaty of 1866.
Sarah Rector was born in 1902, near Taft in Indian Territory, the northeastern part of present-day Oklahoma. Though she was “colored,” she was not an African-American child and had no concept of what it meant to be an American citizen. Rector was a descendant of slaves who had been owned by Creek Indians before the Civil War.
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.
There was a great deal of resistance to this plan by the Creeks and other tribes, who viewed it as yet another tactic by the U.S. government to destroy the tribe’s political sovereignty and way of life. But as a result of the Dawes Allotment Act, nearly 600 black children, or Creek Freedmen minors as they were called, inherited 160 acres of land, unlike their African-American counterparts who were granted citizenship after slavery but never got that promised “forty acres and a mule.”
To the surprise of U.S. government officials, a few old and young allottees like Sarah Rector found that their land came with crude oil and other minerals underneath the soil.
When she was born, Rector was given a rough, hilly allotment, considered worthless agriculturally, in Glenpool, 60 miles from where she and her family lived. Her father had petitioned the Muskogee County Court to sell the land, but he was denied because of certain restrictions placed on the land, for which he was required to continue paying taxes.
In 1913, when she was ten years old, large pools of oil were discovered on Rector’s land. One year later, her land produced so much oil that she had already yielded $300,000; her fortune was increasing at a rate of $10,000 per month. Her mother had died years earlier from tuberculosis. In 1914, her father died in prison, leaving her orphaned.
Even before her father’s death, Rector was appointed a guardian who was responsible for managing Rector’s money and providing for her education and care. The law at the time required full-blooded Indians, black adults and children who were citizens of Indian Territory with significant property and money, to be assigned “well-respected” white guardians who often cheated them out of their lands. There are stories of swindlers, oil tycoons and other unscrupulous types who kidnapped and murdered the children and adults to get their land.
Unlike other hapless waifs who fell victim to fraud, losing their land and wealth while growing up in a western frontier fraught with violence, fraud and racism, Rector was one of a few black children able to ward off greedy guardians and retain her wealth as an adult.
Rector graduated high school, attended Tuskegee University, and then moved to Kansas City at age 19. She purchased a mansion on Twelfth Street, entertaining Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Joe Louis and Jack Johnson at lavish parties. Not much is known of her later life other than stories of how she splurged on jewelry, fine clothes, and cars.
Much of Rector’s adult life is still needs to be developed, as is the case for the study of the history of black childhood in America. Rector is significant because hers is a vital yet untold story about the complexities or race, childhood, and citizenship on the American frontier in the early 20th century.
Stacey Patton is Senior Editor of TheDefendersOnline and Senior Editor/Writer for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc.
The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund is America’s legal counsel on issues of race. Through advocacy and litigation, LDF focuses on issues of education, voter protection, economic justice and criminal justice. We encourage students to embark on careers in the public interest through scholarship and internship programs. LDF pursues racial justice to move our nation toward a society that fulfills the promise of equality for all Americans. www.naacpldf.org
SOURCE (The Defenders Online)