Tonya Bolden Interview | School Library Journal

Searching for Sarah Rector | An Interview With Tonya Bolden
By Daryl Grabarek on January 14, 2014

Sarah Rector’s story began long before she was born with the event that came to be known as the “Trail of Tears.” Along with members of the five Native American tribes who were forcibly removed from the American South in the 1830s, were the people of African descent that they enslaved. Those who survived that dangerous journey were relocated to “Indian Country” west of the Mississippi River.

Searching for Sarah Rector
Tonya Bolden notes in Searching for Sarah Rector: The Richest Black Girl in America

In 1866, under pressure from the U.S. government, the Five Tribes made the blacks among them citizens of their nations. As such, these individuals and their children were able to apply for the land allotments that were being carved up in the 1890s in “I.T.” or Indian Territory—some of which was, as Tonya Bolden notes in Searching for Sarah Rector: The Richest Black Girl in America (Abrams, 2014), “Rough. Chock-full of rocks…and a tax burden.” But some of that same ground held oil, creating fortunes for landowners, including an 11-year-old girl. As Bolden explains, this is a story that requires some backtracking to tell it fully….

I think everyone’s first question about this book is, how did you discover this incredible story?

I owe it all to a librarian! Sherelle Harris with Norwalk, Connecticut’s public library system. Sherelle sent me an e-mail in late June 2010. It began simply “FYI . . .” Then came a cut-and-paste of a short article about Sarah Rector. Sherelle’s closing words included “Couldn’t resist sharing this.” In sharing, she planted a seed.

I had never heard of Sarah Rector. I knew very little about the lives of people of African descent who had been enslaved by Creeks and members of other Indian tribes. I knew what a gusher was but not all that much about the Oklahoma-Texas oil boom of the early 1900s. But I was most intrigued. The story called to me in part because a very good friend of mine was born and raised in Taft, Oklahoma, one of state’s few remaining “all-black” towns. Years ago I wrote a sketch about my friend’s father who was one of the pillars of that community decades ago. So I knew something about Taft. And Sarah was born on the outskirts of Taft.

Click here to read the full interview: Searching for Sarah Rector | An Interview With Tonya Bolden | School Library Journal.

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