Stephanie St. Clair, better known as "Queenie" or "Madame St. Clair," stands as a towering figure in the annals of Harlem's history during the 1920s. A mentor to the infamous Bumpy Johnson and a legendary entrepreneur, Madame St. Clair made an indelible mark as one of the most powerful bosses in Harlem during Prohibition. This article delves into the life of this enigmatic woman who fearlessly navigated the underworld, faced off against the Mafia, and championed community empowerment.
From Numbers to Power:
In the midst of Prohibition, Stephanie St. Clair made a bold move that would solidify her place in Harlem's history. Investing $10,000 of her own money, she created a numbers racket—a form of illegal gambling where players bet on numbers corresponding to future official results. Madame St. Clair's keen business acumen and strategic prowess quickly elevated her to become one of the most influential figures in Harlem's criminal underworld.
Confronting the Mafia:
As Prohibition drew to a close, the Mafia sought to infiltrate the lucrative numbers game. Dutch Schultz, a notorious M*fia affiliate, attempted to force Madame St. Clair out of the business. However, instead of succumbing to intimidation, she defiantly declared war. Madame St. Clair took out newspaper ads to discuss politics, document assassination attempts, and assert her dominance in the face of external threats.
Madame St. Clair's influence extended far beyond the confines of the criminal underworld. Unlike many counterparts, she shared her wealth generously with the Harlem community. Anyone deemed capable had the opportunity for employment, as Madame St. Clair believed in empowering those around her. Her commitment to social and economic upliftment set her apart as a leader with a broader vision.
The Battle with Dutch Schultz:
In the fierce battle for control of the numbers racket, Madame St. Clair faced off against Dutch Schultz. Even after Schultz's death, she sent a telegram to his deathbed bearing the Bible verse "As you sow, so shall you reap." Signed as "Madam Queen of Policy," this act symbolized her triumph over her formidable opponent and solidified her legacy as a force to be reckoned with.
Legacy and Activism:
After the intense struggles with the Mafia, Madame St. Clair passed the reins of her business to Bumpy Johnson and transitioned to a new phase of her life. She turned her attention to activism and community development. Until her death at the age of 72 or 73, Madame St. Clair continued to contribute to the betterment of Harlem, leaving behind a legacy that transcended the boundaries of her tumultuous past.