America’s First Black Millionaires

Sarah Rector is one of the most unlikely millionaires, period. According BlackPast, she was born in 1902 on Muscogee Creek land to a family that had been enslaved by the Creek Indians decades earlier. As reported by The Telegraphan 1866 treaty granted all former Creek slaves 160 acres of land, but by the time the rector’s family made their request, there was not much left, and according to The Washington Postland allocated specifically to Sarah was considered virtually worthless.

But taxes had to be paid, so Sarah Rector’s father leased the land to the Devonian Oil Company – and in 1913 a miracle happened: the company found oil on Sarah’s land. Lots of oil. Within months, 10-year-old Sarah Rector was receiving about $300 a day from her oil lease — nearly $9,000 todayor somewhere in the neighborhood of $3 million a year in today’s money.

The reaction of the white establishment has of course been violently racist. She was described as “an orphan, rude, black and uneducated” in a local newspaper, and was often referred to as a racial epithet. Rumors that Sarah was being abused by her federally appointed guardian and her family began to circulate – but the truth was that Sarah had gone to school and had control over her wealth. At 18, Sarah was officially a millionaire. She lived well until 1967, when she suffered a cerebral hemorrhage and died.

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