Poor Little Rich Girl

20 Feb

At 5 feet tall, I have trouble finding jeans that I don’t have to hem or roll up. I never used to have this problem, but petite pants have gotten longer over the years. All that bovine growth hormone, I suppose. For several years I didn’t wear jeans, but I recently discovered that Gloria Vanderbilt jeans come short enough for me. That got me thinking of the time, decades ago when she first launched her clothing line and my mother told me abut her “poor little rich girl” life.

Tonya Bolden’s newest book,  Searching for Sarah Rector, the Richest Black Girl in America

Unknown

is the story of an eleven year old who inherited a fortune and then disappeared.Born in 1902 as a freedman in the Creek, Indian Territory, Sarah was not destined for any great fortune or wealth. Her parents were farmers and grew corn and cotton. Being born in the Creek before March 4, 1906 meant that they were eligible for land allotment for the members of the Creek Nation. At the age of 11, however, Sarah was worth more than a million dollars. She now lived in Oklahoma, the 46th sate of the Union. The money came from the 160 acres under her name, which was bought for $556.50. The land was rough, chock-full of rocks, and required payment of about $30 in taxes. Fed up with the useless land, her father, Mr. Rector, leased the land to an oil drilling company. By 1913, the well on her land began to yield dividends. Newspapers estimated the output to be about a whooping 105,000 gallons a day and predicted that Sarah would soon become a “Plute.” A ‘plute’ is slang for plutocrat a very wealthy person. When a child went from poor to plute, the courts insisted on appointing a guardian for managing the affairs for the minor. T. J. Porter, a cattle rancher, became Sarah’s legal guardian. Every penny spent on Sarah’s welfare was to be accounted for to or permitted by the court. The public pressure on Sarah became so intense that she ‘disappeared’ for a while in 1914.

This is both her story and that of children just like her: one filled with ups and downs amid bizarre goings-on and crimes perpetrated by greedy and corrupt adults. From a trove of primary documents, including court and census records and interviews with family members, author Tonya Bolden painstakingly pieces together the events of Sarah’s life and the lives of those around her.
The book includes a glossary, a bibliography, and an index.

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