Madam St. Clair, Without Compare
The Woman, The Myth, The Legend
No one knew that Stephanie St. Clair was born in the East Caribbean as she spoke polished French and had a talent for lying shamelessly about her origin story. Historians still can’t agree on where she acquired her education or when she came to the US (you could spin enough origin stories to outlast any Marvel franchise). What we know for sure is that St. Clair was a fierce contender while running the numbers game in Harlem. As the richest black woman of her time, she earned the title of Queenie, but it wasn’t without a fight to the top.
As Ye Sow
Even through some of the worst horrors and attempts to crush her, St. Clair always knew how to handle herself. When one boyfriend tried to force her into sex work, she stabbed him in the eye with a fork. When another attempted to strangle her, she pushed him so hard he cracked his skull on a table and died. When other mobsters, like Dutch Schultz, wanted in on the Harlem cut by bringing in their own illegal gambling operations, she would personally go and claim her territory by smashing up the places hosting those games. Of Schultz, she said, “I ain’t afraid of Dutch Schultz or any other man living. He’ll never touch me”.
So Shall Ye Reap
After growing her numbers games and developing a reputation as the Queen of Numbers in Harlem, Dutch Schultz put out a hit on St. Clair. Now, Schultz wanted a lot of people dead, including a DA who his boss, Lucky Luciano, said was off-limits. When Schultz went ahead with the assassination attempt anyway, Lucky had Schultz whacked instead. Assassins shot Schultz in the gut, and he lived for almost a full day. In that time, St. Clair made sure to telegram her withering arch nemesis a bible verse: “As ye sow, so shall ye reap”.
The Black Hitler Years
No part of St. Clair’s life was without spectacle or intrigue. She married something of a kindred spirit in Sufi Abdul Hamid (born Eugene Brown), who claimed to have been born in Egypt under the shadow of a pyramid (he was from Chicago). Other self-stylizations included Bishop Conshakin, Buddhist Cleric, and His Holiness Bishop Amiru Al-Mu-Minin Sufi A. Hamid. He wore a turban and a dagger and is most well-known for his anti-semitic labor organizing in Harlem in the 30s.
The press called him Black Hitler. St. Clair would eventually shoot at His Holiness Black Hitler, perhaps not least of all because he was stealing her money and cheating on her with a fortune teller, Fu Futtam, a black woman named Dorothy Matthews who claimed to be Asian. Without St. Clair, that perfect match might have gone unmade.
Here’s a shot of the lovebirds:
After the Queen of Numbers closed the books, she went on to educate her fellow citizens about racial inequality, civil rights, and police corruption.
Some of what she had to say: