Sarah Rector was born in 1902 in what is today Taft, Oklahoma. Back then, it was known as Twine, Indian Territory, since Oklahoma had not yet been incorporated as a state.
In 1913, 11-year-old Sarah Rector became the richest Black girl in America, almost by accident. She had been born into poverty as a member of the Muscogee Nation in Oklahoma in 1902, and received, as did every member of the Nation, a plot of undesirable land in the territory when it was made a state in 1907.
By the time she moved to Kansas City in her late teens, Sarah Rector’s net worth was estimated to be greater than $1 million, over $28 million today, spread between oil fields, 2,000 acres of farmland in Oklahoma, and investments in numerous businesses in Kansas City.
Sarah’s paternal great-great-grandmother, Mollie McQueen was enslaved by Creek Chief Opothleyahola in Alabama. When his people were forced west of the Mississippi by the U.S. government, the chief took his enslaved workers with him.
When the Indian territory where Rector was born became Oklahoma in 1907, the federal government granted each member of the Creek Nation a land allotment, including descendants of people enslaved by the Nation like four-year-old Sarah Rector.
Moreover, Sarah’s parents, Joseph and Rose, were also forced to pay a land tax of $30 per year on their daughter’s property. This was a burden that became so great that Joseph attempted to sell Sarah’s land, but was blocked from doing so by state law, which forbade the sale of lands belonging to minors.
Since he could not sell the land, Joseph Rector decided to lease it out to a Pittsburgh oil company. At the turn of the 20th century, the Indian Territory was the country’s biggest oil producer. After Oklahoma statehood in 1907, the new state continued to draw drillers to the area hoping to get lucky.
Then, in the fall of 1913, an independent driller struck liquid gold on Sarah Rector’s land, bringing the family royalties of $300 per day, about $8,000 today. Some estimates place Sarah Rector’s net worth at the time at $1 million, or about $28 million today. One newspaper dubbed her “the richest negro in the world.”
According to historian Tonya Bolden in her biography Searching for Sarah Rector: The Richest Black Girl in America, Jefferson “had been the family’s benefactor for years and long before there was any probability of them ever having money.”
Although Joseph Rector had selected Porter as Sarah’s guardian before oil was discovered on her land, newspapers soon picked up the story that the Rector family was still living in relative poverty while Sarah’s white guardian was making a killing off her oil.
With all the hype surrounding her luck, eventually, Rector attracted the attention of another type of man: one who did not see black or white so much as green. The 12-year-old was soon receiving marriage proposals from suitors as far away as Germany.
Sarah wound up marrying a former college football player she met in Kansas City. The couple revealed in their position as “local royalty,” driving fancy cars and hosting Joe Louis, Duke Ellington, and Count Basie in their mansion.
“There, the Rectors eventually moved into a home that was a far cry from that weather-whipped two-room cabin in which Sarah began life. This home-place was a stately stone house. It became known as the Rector Mansion,” Tonya Bolden said.
Sarah Rector’s net worth at the time of her death is a matter of debate and speculation. She died in 1967 at age 65 and was buried in Taft.