This house at 12th and Euclid has no sign or marker to herald its history. Indeed, hundreds of people pass by it on their way to somewhere else most likely not even noticing. But this house was once home to Sarah Rector a little girl who by the time she was 12 years old was already a millionairess several times over. At a time when among the African-American community such wealth was utterly unheard of, young Sarah was living a life so extraordinary even if Hollywood had existed at the time, they would’ve thrown the screenwriter out of town for telling stories to be fanciful to be believed.
Sarah Rector was born in 1902 in eastern Oklahoma. Her parents were children of freed slaves who were formerly the property of the Creek Nation. It is an unfortunate fact that there were Native American tribes who kept slaves. In fact, it was fairly common among the group called the “Five civilized tribes” ( the Creek, Cherokee, Seminole, Chickasaw, and Choctaw). When these tribes were forcibly moved to the land that is now the state of Oklahoma the brought their slaves with them.
Once slavery was abolished, many former slaves chose to stay in the Oklahoma territory on tribal lands and were treated as equal members of the tribe. As a descendant of former slaves and a member of the Creek Nation Sarah was awarded a parcel of land. The soil on this land was in poor condition and not really suitable for farming. To pay the property taxes, Sarah’s father rented the plot to the Standard Oil Company for exploration.
In 1912 Oil was discovered on her land and as the official owner of the property, Sarah began receiving royalties totaling over six million dollars per year in today’s money. Needless to say, being a black child millionaire in the early 1900s attracted much attention some of it not positive. But Sarah actually showed wisdom beyond her years and was able to keep from being swindled or having her wealth stolen from her. She bought stocks and owned property and several businesses. In 1913 she was declared “An official white person” by the state to allow her to travel and not be subject to segregation. Although her wealth meant she would never have to work, she still managed her restaurants and went to Tuskegee Institute in Alabama and earned a degree.
At 18, she moved to Kansas City and moved into the mansion that is still standing today. She owned several cars and had a full staff at her home. Her restaurant in Kansas city was quite popular and was frequented by Jazz legends like Duke Ellington and Count Basie. She also owned car dealerships in Kansas City and Chicago. She loved fast cars and was often ticketed for speeding.
Like many, much of her wealth was lost during the depression. She sold her mansion and moved to a smaller house and eventually sold that as well as buying a farm outside of town. Her wealth was so vast that she still was able to keep many of her beloved cars. Sarah died in 1967 and was buried in Oklahoma. Like several historical buildings in Kansas City (Jean Harlow’s family home and Walt Disney’s boyhood home and site of his first animation studio) these buildings remain abandoned and unremembered. It’s a shame really. Sarah Rector was only the second female millionaire in our nation’s history. Her story and her home should be remembered.