Stephanie St. Clair: Harlem’s Crime Queen & Civil Rights Icon

Explore the life of mobster Stephanie St. Clair, Queen of Harlem, who dominated gambling, fought corruption, and uplifted Black Harlemites.
Stephanie St. Clair

Stephanie St. Clair, also known as “Queenie,” was a prominent mobster in the 20th century who associated with famous figures in New York, including civil rights activists and mafia leaders. As an imposing presence on the underground gambling scene in Harlem, she hired Bumpy Johnson for security. Despite her criminal activities, St. Clair was respected for her devotion to uplifting Black Harlemites through activism and education.

Early Life and Rise to Power

Born on December 24, 1897, in Guadeloupe, a French archipelago, St. Clair’s early life remains shrouded in mystery, with different accounts of her childhood. She arrived in New York during the Great Migration, settling in Harlem and joining the Forty Thieves gang. St. Clair invested $10,000 to develop her own numbers racket, attracting unwanted attention from rival male racketeers. To protect herself, she hired Bumpy Johnson as her bodyguard, who later dominated Harlem’s gambling scene and became one of the most philanthropic mobsters of the 20th century.

The Numbers Racket and Community Impact

The numbers racket was a small-scale lottery run on a neighborhood-by-neighborhood basis, specifically targeting the African-American community. While illegal, St. Clair’s numbers racket had several benefits for the community. She employed dozens of Black men and women as ‘numbers runners’ and subsidized their low incomes, supported legitimate black businesses, and published newspaper ads that helped educate Black Harlemites on their legal and voting rights. However, the police saw it differently and arrested St. Clair for the possession of policy slips.

Conflict with Dutch Schultz and the Mafia

In 1933, the repeal of Prohibition resulted in mobsters who made their money selling liquor looking for ways to replenish their profits. Dutch Schultz was the biggest threat to St. Clair and the entire gambling industry in Harlem. He targeted competitors with extreme violence, resulting in over 40 deaths, and was branded “Public Enemy Number One” by the FBI. As a successful Black racketeer and a woman, St. Clair was at the top of his target list. She did everything in her power to stop Schultz and his gang from infiltrating her racket, highlighting how his actions were heavily racially motivated and encouraging her peers to stop engaging with businesses that weren’t black-owned.

Retirement and Later Life

Stephanie St. Clair’s most significant rival was Dutch Schultz, who ordered a hit on her in 1935. Fearing for her life, she handed her business over to her bodyguard, Bumpy Johnson, and went into hiding. After Schultz’s assassination, St. Clair retreated from the gambling scene and married fellow activist Sufi Abdul Hamid. However, their relationship was doomed, and St. Clair shot him during a fight in 1938, resulting in her imprisonment.

Legacy and Cultural Impact

Stephanie St. Clair died peacefully in 1969, and her life has been the inspiration for several movies and TV shows. Two new projects are in the works that will focus on her life and times. As a prominent figure in the underground gambling scene of Harlem during the Prohibition era, she was also an advocate for civil rights and battled corruption from both the police and rival gangsters. St. Clair’s story is a testament to her resilience and determination, making her an unforgettable figure in the history of Harlem and organized crime.