“Queenie,” “Madam Queen,” “Madam St. Clair,” “Queen of the Policy Rackets” – whichever of the many nicknames you know her by, Stephanie St. Clair is one of the most formidable mobsters of the 20th century.
St. Clair spent her criminal career rubbing elbows with New York’s famous figures, from leading civil rights activists to the fearsome heads of the mafia’s Five Families.
With the “Godfather of Harlem,” Bumpy Johnson, as her hired security, Stephanie St. Clair was an imposing presence on the New York underground gambling scene.
Yet, her devotion to uplifting Black Harlemites through activism and education earned the respect and admiration of her peers.
She was known around Harlem for many things, her frequent (and often entertaining) newspaper ads being one of them.
However, it was her steadfast resolve in standing up to corrupt police officers and rival racketeers like Dutch Schultz that ultimately remains St. Clair’s biggest legacy.
Stephanie St. Clair spent most of her adult life in the public eye, taking out full newspaper ads to inspire her peers or address her foes. However, her early life is shrouded in mystery, which is partly St. Clair’s own doing.
There are several versions of her childhood, but most accounts 헤라카지노도메인 state that she was born on December 24, 1897, in the French archipelago Guadeloupe.
In this version of her origin story, her French Caribbean background meant she could read in both French and English, making her far more educated than most white Americans.
Another version of her mythology (the spread of which St. Clair herself contributed to) is that she was actually born in France and taught herself English on the voyage to the US.
Whichever version is true, both accounts recognize that she traveled by steamer to the US (though whether this occurred in 1911 or 1921 is still up for debate).
The Rise Of The Queen Of Harlem
St. Clair arrived in New York in the midst of the Great Migration, where more than six million African Americans moved North to escape the persecution of the Jim Crow South.
She quickly settled in the African-American neighborhood of Harlem and began to sow the seeds of her criminal career by joining (and eventually leading) the Forty Thieves.
Initially formed in the 1820s, the Forty Thieves was one of New York’s oldest criminal gangs, famous for running theft and extortion rackets.
It’s unclear exactly how she came up with the money, but St. Clair soon decided to branch out from the Thieves and invested $10,000 to develop her own numbers racket.
Her new status as a “policy banker” would quickly attract the unwanted attention of her rival male racketeers, so she hired the services of a then little-known bodyguard, Ellsworth Raymond “Bumpy” Johnson.
However, Harlem’s police department didn’t see it this way.
Despite having several officers in her employment, St. Clair was arrested in December 1929 for the possession of policy slips.
On January 1, 1930 – just two days after her arrest – she announced in the Amsterdam News, “I have been arrested and framed by three of the bravest and noblest cowards who wear civilian clothes.”
In March 1930, she was sentenced to eight months in a work camp. Immediately upon her release in December, St. Clair sought revenge.
As part of an investigation into police corruption, St. Clair testified against the cops on her bankroll and successfully had over a dozen officers suspended from the force.
By the 1930s, Queenie and Bumpy had built an empire and dominated the Harlem gambling scene with their thriving numbers racket.
There had always been rival racketeers trying to muscle in on the operation. However, the repeal of Prohibition in 1933 meant that mobsters who made their money selling liquor (known as “bootlegging”) were looking for ways to replenish their profits.
Arthur “Dutch Schultz” Flegenheimer was, without a doubt, the biggest threat to both St. Clair and the entire gambling industry in Harlem.
He targeted competitors with extreme violence, forcing them to hand over a share of their revenue or relinquish their operation to him entirely.
Those who refused to submit would face violent beatings or even murder.