Sarah Rector was born on March 3, 1902, near Twine, I.T. (Indian Territory). Sarah and her family were “Creek freedmen”—black members of the Creek tribe. Like most Creek freedmen, Sarah, her parents and her three young siblings were extremely poor, living together in a ramshackle two-bedroom cabin. However, that would all soon change. In Searching for Sarah Rector: The Richest Black Girl in America (ages 10-14), Coretta Scott King Honor-winning author Tonya Bolden tells the story of Sarah’s meteoric rise to wealth, and the whirlwind of drama it created.
Sarah, her siblings and her parents were all allotted 160 acres of land, as part of the United States takeover of the Indian Territory. Most people in Sarah’s town made their living by farming their allotments or selling them when money became scarce. However, Sarah’s allotment was leased to a prospector during the beginning of the Oklahoma oil boom. When the prospector placed an initial, then many, producing wells, Sarah became very wealthy, almost overnight. However, that wealth opened the door to problems Sarah and her family could never have imagined.
Using the framework of Sarah’s unlikely wealth, Bolden offers a wide-ranging book discussing the creation of the Indian Territory and Oklahoma, the rise of black towns and boomtowns, and the greed and corruption that surrounds money. Searching for Sarah Rector draws upon photographs, census records, sensationalist newspaper articles and first-person interviews to tell a fascinating account of a little-known time in American history. Reminiscent of Steve Sheinkin and Tanya Lee Stone’s narrative nonfiction, Searching for Sarah Rector is an engrossing, fast-paced and extremely well-researched story that will engage even the most reluctant of nonfiction readers.