Queenie. The Queen of Harlem. Madame St. Clair. These are just a few of the names used to describe Stephanie St. Clair, a woman who ruled part of the Harlem underground during the early 20th century. Her main operation was in numbers and while she lived lavishly and comfortably on her earnings, she–like Casper Holstein–put some of her wealth back into the Black community.
Prior to Organized Crime
St. Clair was born December 24, 1897, in Martinique. She arrived in the U.S. sometime around 1909 from Marseille, France. Arriving in Harlem, she has her first brush with crime when she begins seeing a criminal. Duke, as he was called, attempts to turn her into a prostitute. The relationship ends with Stephanie St. Clair stabbing Duke in the eye with a fork.
She left New York in hopes of settling elsewhere but returned to Harlem after a horrific experience. The bus she was riding on was pulled over by the Klan and a number of Black riders were lynched or burned. Some of the women including St. Clair were raped. She would return to Harlem months later when news of Duke’s death reached her.
St. Clair becomes involved with another criminal named Ed. The two are involved in the early drug trade for sometime before she saved up $30,000. At this point, she opts to leave Ed and go into business for herself.
To say that Ed didn’t take this well would be an understatement. He attempts to strangle her but ever the survivor, St. Clair pushes him off her. Ed busts his head on a table and dies from the injury.
Following this, she begins her own operation by recruiting muscle. She also protects her business by paying off cops to look the other way. April 1917 turns out to be a big day for Stephanie St. Clair as she plays a game of chance and puts up $10,000.
The big stakes bet won her big money and people began calling her “Queenie.” Her more important name would come from the locals of Harlem who dubbed her “Madame St. Clair.”
In the next entry, we’ll go into Madame St. Clair’s operation in Harlem.