Originally published in Liner Notes: https://readymag.com/u63898308/29783/1/
This is the last notable series of events in the life of Stephanie St. Clair, the Harlem Renaissance’s queen of the criminal underground. Ever the chameleon, by her wedding day St. Clair had already reinvented herself as a French exquisite, then a black Mafia don, and then a civil rights activist. Despite the considerable risks she had undertaken in her quest to carve out her own little Harlem world, St. Clair continued, somehow, to come out on top. Until, that is, she married perhaps the only person in Harlem as enigmatic as herself: Sufi Abdul Hamid.
A Wedding and A Court Case
Three shots rang out in the third floor hall of 309 West 125th St in Harlem, less than a block down from the newly reopened Apollo Theater. It was 3:10 p.m. on Tuesday, January 18, 1938. Outside, the .38 revolver’s booming report most likely lost itself in the chatter of the bustling crowds and the metallic rattle of the Kingsbridge, Broadway and Tenth Avenue streetcars that ran up and down 125th Street, carrying passengers from Manhattan to the Bronx and back. No one who had been outside the office block admitted to hearing the gun go off — not the first, second or third time. But inside, the noise ricocheted off walls and slithered down staircases, looking for a willing host. It found two. With their ears, if not their eyes, elevator operator Clarence Dade and housewife Nettie Roach bore witness. On that otherwise ordinary Tuesday, they heard Stephanie St. Clair shooting her once husband-by-contract, Sufi Abdul Hamid.