Searching for Sarah Rector: The Richest Black Girl in America


Book Information

Reader Personality Type
Abrams Books January 2014
  • Character-Building Curriculum
  • Social Studies Curriculum

"They couldn't pick a better time to start in  life--
It ain't too early and it ain't too late!
Starting as a farmer with a brand new wife--
Soon be livin' in a brand new state!
Brand new state -- gonna treat you great!
Gonna give you barley, carrots and  pertaters,
Pasture for the cattle, spinach and termaters,
Flowers on the prairie where the June bugs zoom,
Plen'y of air and plen'y of room,
Plen'y of room to swing a rope!
Plen'y of heart and plen'y of hope."
-- from the 1955 film of Rodgers and Hammerstein's  "Oklahoma"

"In late March [1912], another oil lease deal for Sarah's land  came along.
 This one was with a man named Frank Barnes.  But this  time, the signing
bonus was half as much as in the Devonian deal: only eighty  dollars, or
fifty cents an acre.
"Clearly word hadn't reached Sarah's father, on the outskirts  of Taft,
that around daybreak on March 17, wildcatter Tom Slick had struck black  gold
about five miles south of that horseshoe bend in the Cimarron River.   The
site of Tom Slick's 'Eureka!' was on the land of a white stonemason, Frank
Wheeler, and was leased by one of Slick's partners: banker and real estate man
 B. B. Jones of Bristow, Creek County.

"After oil gushed up on Wheeler's land, Tom Slick did his  level best to
keep his discovery secret -- like cutting Wheeler's telephone  wire.  The wily
wildcatter knew that once word got out, a passel of oilmen  would make a
mad dash to the area to get drilling rights on nearby  land.

"In about a week, Slick and his partners snapped up leases to  much of the
land several miles around Wheeler's farm.  It was B. B. Jones  who wound up
with the right to drill on Sarah's acres, because within days of  getting
the lease on her land, Frank Barnes had handed it off to Jones for a  dollar.
(Barnes was a landman, doing the leasing legwork for Jones.)

"To drill on Sarah's land, Jones had to shell out the money  for everything
his crew had to do, from readying the rig and erecting the  derrick to
spudding in, then drilling deeper and deeper -- hundreds of feet down  into the
earth.  The whole shebang could take one month, two months --  maybe more,
depending on the technical difficulties the crew ran  into.

"After all that, if Jones's crew struck very little or no oil  -- a 'dry
hole' or a 'duster' -- he could be out several thousand dollars.   But if they
struck a 'gusher' -- oil jetting up fast and furious -- B. B. Jones  would
make big bucks when he sold the crude oil to a refinery, where it would be
turned into gasoline, kerosene, and other by-products in high  demand.
"Sarah would be in the money, too.  Her royalty (or  share) was the
standard 12.5 percent of the oil produced."

The first twenty pages of SEARCHING FOR SARAH  RECTOR contain an amazing
and somewhat complicated mini-lesson in  America's westward expansion; the
intricacies of alliances during the Civil  War when it came to the Native
Americans who had earlier  been booted westward out of what became the Old South;
and how Andy  Jackson's famous promise (" long as the grass grows or
the water runs...")  eventually went out the window.

Sarah Rector's black family had lived in Indian  Territory as part of the
Creek Nation and when Indian Territory  was broken up and Oklahoma became a
state, preschool-aged Sarah became owner of  a 160-acre allotment of land,
the same as with each of her family members who  were born before the legal
cutoff date.  And so Sarah Rector, who was  born into a generations-long
tradition of black folks being screwed by  white folks, got lucky and hit the

As we are told up front,

"The scuttlebutt was that Sarah had an income of $15,000 a  month -- the
equivalent of more than $300,000 today."

"The more money we come across, the more problems we  see"
-- The Notorious B.I.G, Puff Daddy, Ma$e, Stevie J. Bernard  Edwards, Nile

And you know that where there is a lot of money, there are  also a lot of
truly evil people looking to separate it from its rightful  owners.  Author
Tonya Bolden keeps building the suspense about what becomes  of Sarah Rector
and all of that money by sharing some truly  disgusting tales about
guardianships gone awry.  (Stealing money from  children is bad enough, but acting
in a fiduciary capacity  by stealing little kids' money AND dumping them in
orphanages to  boot?  Freaking amazing.)

Beyond all of the amazing American history that is sewn into  SEARCHING FOR
SARAH RECTOR, it is fascinating to consider all  the facets of this same
history -- as the author explicitly notes --  that remain a mystery.  It is so
cool to live in today's world of  children's publishing where the
omniscient tone of history writings of the  past have been replaced by an author
providing details to his or her  researching and writing process and saying,
essentially, "Here is what I have  mined and made sense of."  This latter point
of view offers young  readers a lot of space for imagining the possibility
of picking up a virtual  pick and shovel and probing one of the veins that
the author left  unearthed.  Or tracking down mysteries about the past in
their own families  or their own part of the country.

The book is filled with photographs and historic maps, and the back  matter
includes detailed source notes.

And I really liked reading about Kate Barnard, the first  American woman
ever elected to a state post.

80 pages  Ages  10-14   978-1419708466

  1. Recommended by:  Richie Partington, MLIS, Librarian USA
  2. Richie's Picks _http://richiespicks.com_ 

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