Stephanie St Clair is without a doubt one of the “hardest” and badass black women to have become the queen of the dangerous underground life that involved gambling and the Mafia. Being a woman did not deter her from working in a male-dominated and dangerous industry and even though she did not choose the life she had, she made great use of it till her last days as the Queen of Gambling.
Stephanie St Clair had a troubled early start to life, much of which shaped her personality and life. For her, arriving in Harlem, New York in her early 20s in 1912 was a fresh start to life. Born in Guadeloupe in 1886 to a single mother who had an affair with a French man, Stephanie grew up in a poor home with her mother who toiled hard to see that her daughter attained education and a better life.
Unfortunately, at 15, when her mother fell ill, she was forced to stop school in order to make money and survive. She worked as a housemaid for a rich French family in Martinique and was constantly sexually abused by the son of the house. After the death of her mother, Stephanie saved up enough money to leave the Caribbean and moved to France. While in France, her black skin made it impossible for her to find work despite being educated.
On July 31, 1912, she arrived in Harlem after leaving France on the S.S The Guiana ship in 1911 learning English while making the trip to the USA. Soon after her arrival, she was associated with several criminals and had a short relationship that almost got her into prostitution. She also had a brief encounter with the Ku Klux Klan and soon became the leader of a local gang known as the 40 thieves.
The Mob Museum narrates that Stephanie became wealthy in a short period and decided to invest $10,000 to develop a numbers racket gambling industry in Harlem for the African American community which was growing following the great migration. Together with her partner Bobby Johnson, also a notorious criminal, she set up strong gambling and illegal business in Harlem and became a millionaire.
Stephanie controlled the underground business in Harlem and could not be defeated by her rivals or even the police. She is known to have killed one of her partners after he refused to end the relationship, and shooting another as well. She sold controlled drugs and alcohol at the time of its ban between 1920 and 1933 and even caused the dismissal of over a dozen white police officers who patronized her business as a revenge for her arrest that caused her to spend 8 months in a workhouse.
In the 1930s, Stephanie was involved in a heavy dispute with the Italian Mafia who wanted her to surrender to them and be under their control like several other African American underground businessmen. She also had an issue with Dutch Schultz, an Amerian criminal and gambler who wanted her to submit to him.
Believing that she would eventually break because she was a woman, Schultz made sure to terrorize Stephanie by attacking her gambling clubs, kidnapping and killing a few of her workers and locking her sales. In return, Stephanie tipped off the police about his new business deals which caused him to be arrested and lose over 200 million dollars. By then, she had become known as the Queen of Gambling, earning herself nicknames like Queenie, Madam Queen or Madam St. Clair.
Aside from her dangerous appeal and dealings, Stephanie is celebrated as an activist and advocate for equality. She often helped several African Americans and spoke against police brutality running several ads in the Harlem newspapers calling out several police officers.
Stephanie St Clair was untouchable by the 1930s and retired from active business leaving her dealings in trusted hands while enjoying the profit. She lived an expensive life and dealt with the law a few times due to the nature of her work. She died in December of 1969.