Sunday, January 19, 2014

Sarah Rector - A Creek Freedman Story Unfolds in New Book


At last a book about the story of Creek Freedman child Sarah Rector has been told! 

Award winning author Tonya Bolden has researched and documented the life of the child described 100 years ago in the press as the "Richest Colored Girl in America". This newly published book describes the story of the child Sarah, and how her life was changed after oil was discovered on her land allotment. The book discusses efforts of the child and her parents to control their own lives, steering clear of land grafters, self appointed "guardians" and others who hoped to put their hands on her oil money from her land allotment near Muskogee Oklahoma.

Her story was an interesting one, and it is set against a fascinating backdrop of Oklahoma, of Indian Territory, and of the Creek Nation. The story unfoldds of this young girl, and her fate and her determination to survive.

In 2010 I wrote an article about Sarah Rector depicting her life that emerged after oil was discovered on her land. I followed her case in the press, including the reaction of the community to her new found wealth, the efforts to control her money, and even her enrollment at the preparatory school on the grounds of Tuskegee Institute. I also wrote about her later move to Kansas City, and her emergence into adulthood.

But now, in 2014, acclaimed children's author Tonya Bolden captivated by Sarah's story, took the charge to find out more and she has succeeded in telling more of Sarah's story. Through Bolden's work, her research and investigative skills, more of Sarah's life has been eloquently told in called  "Searching for Sarah Rector, The Richest Black Girl in America". The author places the story in the proper historical context, providing Indian Territory and Creek Nation history as the landscape upon which it occurred. 

In the book one will find maps, illustrations, and photos which all reflect the historical landscape, from which Sarah's story came.

Colorful maps such as this one are found in Tonya Bolden's book.

Author Tonya Bolden's research was so thorough to also point exactly to the land where Sarah Rector's allotments were located.

Sarah's property was located in Township 18 North. 
Her property was located on the banks of the Cimarron River.

Ms. Bolden was also so resourceful, that she even found an image of the Sarah Rector Oil wells. A postcard image of the land owned by Sarah, was located and she included it in her book.

Postcard image shown in "Searching for Sarah Rector"

Details about Sarah's early life were often depicted in the news articles of the day, including many from the Chicago Defender. And articles about Sarah would appear for the years many of which were focused on the concept of such wealth belonging to a black child. Many of the articles in the white press were derogatory about this young girl, some even calling her a "pickaninny" as was often done during those years. The constant attention on the child, the effort to have her parents declared incompetent by many whites in the community, and efforts for guardians to put their hands on her money clearly frightened the young Sarah, and Bolden points out how she shunned the attention that she received so much. After so many years and struggles of Miss Rector and her parents to fight back against so many seeking to control her wealth, time became her ally, because when she came of age, the young Sarah was finally able to control her own funds and have control over her life. 

The author included an interview from 1916 where her father Joe testified in court where he spoke about having their own chosen representative purchase property in Sarah's name. The hearing covered the purchase of about five hundred acres of land in Muskogee and Wagoner Counties. A simple purchase of property was not conceivable in a community that viewed them as inferior and incompetent.

Author Bolden provides insight into the issues of control of land, and she finally takes the reader to the years that would eventually bring an end to Sarah's battles. As she turned eighteen, she was finally able to take more control of her own life. 

By 1922 she had moved to Kansas City, and was able to make decisions that would allow her to live her own life as she chose.
Epilogue

In September in 1922, Sarah married Kenneth Campbell and from that marriage three sons came. I found an article in the Chicago Defender about her marriage:


Chicago Defender November 4, 1922 page 1

It was also a pleasure to see a photo of Sarah Rector Campbell and her husband Kenneth, in the book as well. 
Sarah and Kenneth Campbell from the book by Tonya Bolden

It is not known how long Sarah was married to Kenneth Campbell, but by 1930 she was living with her children and family, apart from Kenneth. Living with her were other relatives including her grandmother Amy McGilbray, who were also Creek Freedmen each, once awarded their own land allotments.

Sarah Rector Campbell in 1930 in Kansas City Census

Sarah Rector Campbell, remarried in 1934 to William Crawford. Sarah spent the rest of her life with her second husband William. Her name gradually faded from the newspaper headlines over the years and she was able to enjoy the peace and solace of family and loved ones and the turmoil of her early life faded away. She no longer had to hide from hostile and sinister reporters who did not wish her well, nor from those who might attempt to take her life, and so, her life was able to unfold without drama. 


In the 1940 Federal Census Sarah is living with second husband William. Youngest son Clarence was still in the household with her at that time. Source: 1940 Census, Kansas City Missouri

Author Bolden note that years later, in the 1990s Sarah's son Clarence was interviewed and he also spoke about his mother's desire for peace and that she was for most of her life "a very private person."

Sarah Rector's story is one of success. She managed to eventually control her own assets and live a full life. She was vulnerable, but did not succumb to the efforts of many to seize her holdings. She got her education, married, raised her family and lived to see her children and grandchildren. 

She was also successful in that she escaped the dangers of the era and there were many dangers, for Sarah was not the only child of her day, whose allotment yielded oil. Danny Tucker and two other children, Herbert and Stella Sells had their home dynamited in an act to seize their land. These heinous acts were surely acts that fed the fears of the young Sarah, and one can almost understand the sadness in the eyes of the child seen in the now famous photo of her. She was afraid and she only wanted to live and be the child that she was.

Sarah Rector (Image from Cover of Book by Tonya Bolden)

In 1967, Sarah Rector Campbell Crawford died on July 22, after suffering a stroke. The Campbells many of whom still live in Kansas City and Independence Missouri, were with her when she died, and attended her funeral in Kansas City. She was and is still known by many simply as Sarah Rector. After her funeral in Kansas City,  her body was taken home to Oklahoma and she was buried in Black Jack Cemetery, in Taft Oklahoma. A modest stone marks her grave.

Headstone is found at Black Jack Cemetery and is shown on USGennet cemetery page Shared by Lynne Milton

The story of Sarah Rector is an amazing one, and thankfully, her relatives including her children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews who knew and loved her in Kansas City have preserved her history and legacy. 

Author Tonya Bolden has done a beautiful job in telling this story, and her work with the family as well as with the many resources that she obtained, has preserved the history and legacy of this young girl, whose family emerged from obscurity in the Creek Nation, and who survived the pursuits of many who tried to derail her from living a rich full life. 

Thankfully they did not succeed and she lived to see generations follow her. Thank you Tonya Bolden for telling the story of Sarah Rector with the dignity that is so well deserved.


4 comments:

hecain said...

Thank you for sharing this story, Angela! Reading this, makes me want to buy the book!

hecain said...

Thank you for sharing this, Angela!
Reading this makes me want to purchase the book!

Leita said...

That is some story! I am glad she had a good life with people to love her.

Joan said...

After reading this I very much would like to read this book. Where can I purchase this book.