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Dream books, crystal balls, and "lucky numbers": African American female mediums in Harlem, 1900-1930s.

During the late 1990s, self-proclaimed Jamaican psychic "Miss Geo" appeared in nation-wide infomercials offering tarot card readings, one-on-one psychic consultations, and spiritual guidance on matters concerning money, family, and love. Miss Cleo and her promoters, the multi-million dollar syndicate Wahgwaan Entertainment and the Psychic Readers Network, offered pay-per-call psychic service and attracted consumers via the Internet, direct mail, and through infomercials. Miss Cleo, whose real name was Youree Cleomill Harris, was not Jamaican nor did she possess psychic powers. Prior to taking on the persona of "Miss Cleo,'" Harris was an actress and entertainer in Los Angeles, California and Seattle, Washington and performed as a character named "Miss Cleo" in a play entitled Supper Club Cafe. In 1999, "Miss Cleo" and Wahgwaan Entertainment and the Psychic Readers Network were publicly accused of being con artists and frauds. They faced lawsuits in several states, and in 2002, the Federal Trade Commission charged the "Jamaican shaman" and her business partners with deceptive advertising, billing, and collection practices." (2)

Youree "Miss Cleo" Harris belonged to an established historic tradition of African American women who claimed to possess psychic and supernatural abilities. During the colonial and antebellum periods, some enslaved and free black women were considered conjurers, practitioners of magic, and spiritual workers who fused African rituals, traditions, and worldviews with those from Anglo-American Supernaturalism. (3) In My Southern Home or The South and Its People, black abolitionist William Wells Brown observed that "nearly every large plantation had at least one, who laid claim to be a fortune teller, and who was granted with more than common respect by his fellow slaves." (4) Antebellum British actress France Kemble in her account of her husband's Georgia rice plantation on Butler Island discusses the supernatural ability of an enslaved woman "prophetess" named Sinda. According to Kemble, Sinda was praised on the plantation because she possessed the gift of sight. Sinda was so much respected by the enslaved community that when she prophesied that the "world was to come to an end at a certain time, the belief in her assertion took such possession of the people on the estate, that they [the slaves] refused to work; and the rice and cotton fields were threatened with an indefinite fallow, in consequences of this strike on the part of the cultivators." (5) For some enslaved African Americans, the supernatural world was crucial in helping them cope with the day-to-day drudgery of plantation life. Some slaves believed that magic powders and spells would prevent physical abuse and being sold, and provide some with the courage and opportunity to runaway or defy their owners. Supernatural traditions and the use of magic charms and amulets were "integral to slaves" strategies of resistance" and "helped to build an inner and autonomous black world." (6)

Similarly, like their ancestors of the past, some African Americans during the early twentieth century believed that "supernatural traditions were integral" to helping them dealt and overcome limited employment and economic hardship, and race, class, and gender discrimination. According to Yvonne Chireau, "for many blacks, supernatural ism revealed why suffering occurred and indicated who or what was responsible, thus explaining and locating the disease or misfortune within communally based norms and idioms of the spiritual world ... and facilitated individual agency and empowerment." (7) African Americans' belief in the supernatural and the power of self-professed conjurers and mediums stemmed from cultural and religious traditions practiced by enslaved people, and from their encounters and experiences with un-conventional and non-institutionalized religious practices in urban communities during the Great Migration. Many black men and women turned to self-professed African American female clairvoyants such as Mme. Fu Futtam, Sally Broy, Princess Claudia, Mary Holmes, Prophetess Elizabeth, and others who were in the business of offering and selling hope and optimism to those who desired to take control of their private lives and their socio-economic conditions. Leading journalist and communist organizer Marvel Cooke noted that: "morbidly curious throngs pass through their [mediums] portals day after day seeking advice on all sorts of problems - primarily, during troublous times, those affecting employment." (8) Black female mediums, whether legitimate spiritual advisors or con artists, offered an array of services to the African American community. They provided spiritual guidance on issues such as money, love, and sickness; they read "tea leaves" and tarot cards; and they sold "lucky numbers" to policy players. Moreover, African American female mediums provided their customers with a sense of autonomy and empowerment over their public and private lives.

Black customers viewed mediums as intermediaries between the spirit world and God and human beings. (9) They believed that mediumship was a possible tool that could potentially help them ward off evil spirits, get a job and earn more money, or seek revenge on an employer, a spouse, or an enemy. For some African American female women, mediumship represented an alternative strategy in protecting them from domestic abuse, abandonment, and infidelity. Yvonne P. Chireau argues, "given the harsh conditions under which most black persons lived in the United States both before and after Emancipation, it is not surprising that an emphasis on alleviating suffering emerged in African American culture. The centrality of healing in slave and post-slavery narratives demonstrates the priority placed on collective responses to the diverse forms of affliction that blacks experienced." (10)

This article examines a group of African American female mediums in Harlem during the early twentieth century. (11) It situates black female mediums, astrologists, numerologists, and spiritual advisors within Harlem's informal economy and underworld of commercial leisure. This essay also examines why some African American women became mediums, their role in Harlem's lucrative numbers racket, and how various African American middle-class leaders and cultural critics perceived black mediumship. This study is guided by the premise that black female mediums used Harlem's informal economy and underworld of commercial leisure to create alternative avenues of income and to practice nonconventional forms of religion and spiritual practices. To supplement their meager incomes, some black women turned to Harlem's informal economy as a way "to make ends meet" and escape menial labor, and to create economic ventures that were independent of white control. As mediums, black women established numerology, hypnotist, and astrology businesses, sold "blessed" love charm, powders, incenses and candles, published dream and numbers books, and established religious temples and storefront churches. By participating in Harlem's informal economy, African American women mediums were willing to "use all the "resources the city offered - licit and illicit" to support themselves and their families." (12)

An examination of African American women mediums in New York broadens the historical narrative and scholarship on black women during the early twentieth century. It highlights the diverse and non-traditional strategies and forms of labor some black women developed as a response to economic disparity, unemployment, and to race, gender, and class discrimination. Exploring black female mediumship also illuminates the less familiar religious, spiritual, and cultural practices of black women, and delineates their importance to some members of the African American community. Moreover, an assessment of African American women spiritual workers also provides a more nuanced reading of African American life in Harlem during the early twentieth century. By paying less attention to commonly studied topics such as the Harlem Renaissance and Progressive era Harlem radicals like Marcus Garvey and Hubert Harrison, this study offers an examination of the often obscure and less familiar social and economic activities of African American women clairvoyants.

There is scant evidence on the actual number of African American women mediums in Harlem and little primary sources on their personal lives and experiences, and religious beliefs and philosophies. Many black women mediums, especially those who were working-class, did not leave personal papers or records that documented their public and privates lives. Due to the lack of available primary records on African American female mediums, this article draws from a host of primary sources, including the Works Project Administration (WPA) slave narratives and interviews, church records, and parole cases tiles from the New York City Municipal Archives. (13) This study also utilizes black newspapers such as The New York Amsterdam News (NYAN) and the New York Age to analyze the lives of African American female mediums. (14) Black newspapers such as the NYAN offer some insight into the public and professional lives of black female mediums. The NYAN's classified sections were filled with the advertisements and marketing schemes of mediums, crystal ball gazers, and self-appointed "professors" and "doctors" of mystical science. The advertisements of black female mediums highlighted their services as spiritual advisors, while capitalizing on the emotional instability of black men and women, especially the unemployed and those suffering from financial distress. Black medium "Mme. Reid," leader of the National Spiritual Church located at 37th West 125th Street, advertised to prospective customers to not: "Be depressed. Don't be broken-hearted. Let Madame Reid help you." One of Dorothy "Mme. Fu Futtam" Matthew's many advertisements read: "The mysterious scientific East Indian Yogi- Sees all knows all, tells, helps all. Are you happy, crossed? Are you lonely? Come to Me, I will advise you. Come to me when others fail." (15)

Black newspapers like the NYAN also featured editorials that criticized black mediums. Leading journalists including Marvel Cooke and feminist writer Thelma E. Berlack argued that black mediums exploited the African American community. They viewed self-proclaimed healers and psychics as frauds, and publicly questioned the authenticity of black mediums. After visiting the churches and homes of several leading black female mediums, Marvel Cooke suggested that "most of these mediums, regardless of the form [of] their readings are clever psychologists. They are adept at reading character from tell-tale marks every person carries with him and they formulate their advice accordingly." (16)


Many African American women, particularly the working-class and the poor, turned to Harlem's informal economy to address day-to-day poverty and limited job opportunities during the early twentieth century. Despite the labor demands of World War I and American prosperity of the 1920s, African American women in Harlem were relatively poor and unable to secure wartime jobs. (17) African American women regardless of their educational background faced race, class, and gender discrimination and were excluded from industrial and professional jobs. (18) In New York City, "only two percent of black women worked in professional jobs between 1910 and 1920 [and] twenty-three percent of New York's black women worked in manufacturing and mechanic industries." (19) The majority of black females labored in low-paid unskilled labor such as domestic work. In Manhattan, African American female domestic and personal service workers represented "close to 70 percent" in 1920. (20)

By the 1930s, the socio-economic conditions of the Great Depression exacerbated the existing economic problems of black Harlemites. African American men and women faced increasing rent and food prices and inadequate living conditions. Historians Gary D. Wintz and Cheryl Greenberg note that during the 1930s "Harlem rent prices were so high that black families had to take in boarders or hold rent parties in order to afford even low-quality housing" and offer "hot beds." (21) Black Harlemites were "on the verge of starvation, as a result of depression and of an intensified discrimination that made it all but impossible for Negroes to find employment." (22) For African American women, the nation's economic crisis forced many out of domestic service and other jobs they had traditionally held after the Reconstruction period. NYAN writer Marvel Cooke observed that black female domestics "have been so downtrodden since the depression, when white girls were given the jobs over which for years they had had a monopoly, they are happy to get any sort of work." (23) One black woman felt like she was losing ground to working poor white women: "I am a Negro working woman who has done all kinds of work, the dirtiest and the hardest. But when times got hard the boss told me I would have to hunt me a job. White women were ready to do the work. I walked from house to house, begging for something to do and could not even find washing or scrubbing." (24)

Describing the impact of the Depression era on the lives of African American women in New York City, Samuel A. Allen, Secretary of the New York Urban League, suggested that "never before has the young colored woman faced the hardships she now experiences. Not even the lowest paid job can she now obtain. No kind of job can be bought for any price. These young single girls are forced out on the streets to solicit or join the already large cliques in the 'numbers' game and other rackets." (25) Even with the implementation of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's various New Deal relief programs, Joe Williams Trotter, Jr. suggested that: "African Americans continued to suffered more than their white counterparts, received less from their government, and got what they called a 'raw deal' rather than a 'new deal.' The depression took its toll on virtually every facet of African American life." (26) Many African American women, in turn, used Harlem's informal economy and underground world of commercial leisure to confront jobless and mounting economic disparity.

Harlem's informal economy was characterized by legal and illegal social, economic, and political activities and commercial leisure that often operated outside city, state, and federal laws and regulations. (27) During the early twentieth century, Harlem's informal economy was synonymous with speakeasies and cabarets, drugs, numbers and prostitution rackets, and organized crime syndicates, and poolrooms. Perceptions of the informal economy were also associated with masculinity, violence, and behavior that some blacks considered immoral and unrespectable. Historian Victoria Wolcott posits, "although the informal economy is usually gendered in the popular imagination as a male world of danger, bravado, violence, and exploitation, illegal activities that involved monetary exchanges also employed women." (28) Harlem's informal economy produced new avenues of employment for African American women, and enabled some to avoid menial labor and to establish businesses. Black women, sometimes in conjunction with legitimate forms of employment, performed in Harlem nightclubs, cabarets, and vaudeville comedy clubs and became brothel owners, prostitutes, numbers bankers and runners, as well as spiritual mediums. (29)

  There are scores of individuals dealing in herbs, roots, and the
  power of divining, who infest Harlem and reap a fair livelihood from
  persons willing to put some curse on an errant individual, some wife
  who desires to get her husband hack to her loving arms, or some
  husband, tired of restaurant victuals, who desires once more to
  sample the culinary wares of an errant mate.
  - Ken Jessamy, 1927
  There is a great, army of "mediums" roaming the streets of Harlem
  hawking lucky incenses at a quarter a bottle and tomorrow's number to
  the credulous public. There are an estimated 200-odd spiritualists in
  Harlem, most of them hiding behind the guise of religion.
  - Marvel Cooke, 1940

African American female mediums represented a diverse community of women, who subscribed to various religious, spiritual, and cultural traditions, philosophies, and worldviews. Their beliefs and interpretations of magic and the supernatural were often rooted in different religions, and spiritual rituals and practices. Some African American female mediums such as Rev. Josephine Becton "drew from the rich symbolism of Christianity as well as from a subterranean core of supernatural ideas." (30) As co-founder and pastor of the Allen-Becton Memorial Temple, Becton believed that mediumship was rooted in Christianity, and should be used to teach the "word of God." She noted that: "churches teach the resurrection of Christ and life after death, but we [Allen-Becton Memorial Temple] prove them through the communication of the spirit [with our] psychic messages." (31) Rosa "'Mother" Home, "the incredible and wealthy religious cult leader" and Harlem radio evangelist, also fused Christian ideology with the supernatural. Born in Sumter, South Carolina in 1880, Horne founded the Mount Calvary Pentecostal Faith Church in 1930, and believed that her ability to "make the blind see" and heal the "sick and lowly" was due to the "miraculous powers of Jesus Christ" and the "mysterious practices of witchcraft." (32)

Some African American female mediums such as MMe. Fu Futtam did not subscribe to Christianity. Buddhism, and the spiritual practices and rituals of the "Orient" shaped Mme. Fu Futtam's interpretation of religion and the supernatural. Known in Harlem as the "Negro-Chinese seer," Fu Futtam, whose real name was Dorothy Matthews, was born in Jamaica around 1906 and migrated to the United States in the 1920s. (33) By the mid-1930s, Fu Futtam had become one of New York City's most established and successful mediums, and in 1938, she and her husband Harlem race activist and religious leader Sufi Abdul Hamid founded the Buddhist Universal Temple of Tranquility. (34) Under the leadership of Hamid and Fu Futtam, the Buddhist Universal Temple of Tranquility promoted the philosophies of Gautama Buddha, mediumship, and spirit possession and reincarnation. (35) Hamid and Mme. Fu Futtam belong to a tradition of African American men and women who subscribed to and combined Asian religious, cultural, and political ideologies with that of African American culture. Analyzing black and Asian cultural and political interaction throughout the twentieth century, scholars such as Vijad Prashad and Heike Raphael-Hernandez demonstrate the "mutual influence of and relationships between members of the African and Asian Diasporas in the Americas." They suggest that blacks within the African Diaspora borrowed and traded, and were influenced by political, cultural, and religious symbols, lifestyles, and personas from Asian derived culture and movements." (36)

Drawing from various religious and cultural influences, many African American women mediums came from similar socio-economic conditions. Many were working-class and possessed some education, and most were not originally from Harlem. Some black female mediums claimed to be from the Caribbean and Africa, however many were southern and mid-western migrants who came to Harlem in search of job opportunities during the Great Migration. Working either as full-time or part-time mediums, very few black women reaped significant parts of the nearly "$1,000,000" income that journalist Marvel Cooke claimed some black mediums earned "from approximately 50,000 or more Harlemites passing through their doors." (37) Due to unsteady earnings and an irregular clientele, most African American women mediums lived modestly.

African American women became mediums and advisors for various reasons. While constricted economic opportunities and race, class, and gender discrimination influenced some black women to become mediums, many spiritual workers claimed to possess the gift of prophecy. In a 1931 article entitled "Hoodoo in America" Harlem Renaissance writer Zora Hurston, noted that one "becomes a hoodoo doctor in one of three ways: by heredity, by serving an apprenticeship under an established practitioner, or by the call. The most influential doctors seem to be born to the cult." (38) Mme. Sally Broy, founder of Righteous Supreme Temple in Chicago, claimed that she was "born with a veil over her face" and that she "received a power from God to cure any disease on earth. I am able to heal your condition without seeing any party or anything you wish to know about yourself or anyone else." (39) Mme. Fu Futtam also maintained that she was a true seer and claimed she "possessed a gift for seeing visions and dreaming dreams. I have possessed it since I was very young. It is a heritage handed down from the ancient mystics." (40) Claiming to possess the gift of prophecy was significant for African American female mediums. It marked the distinction between true seers and spiritual fakers and brought public acclaim for some black female mediums. (41)

Public acclaim was essential to African American female mediums and was directly linked to their client base, potential earnings, and reputations. Satisfied clients testified to relatives and friends about good fortunes they received through mediumship. "Spiritual healer and life reader" Mme. Sally Broy, who was arrested for practicing medicine without a license in December 1927, was well known for her "remarkable powers" and was often publicly praised for her abilities. During her 1927 trial, seventy-five of Broy's clients testified that she had "cured them of tuberculosis and paralysis and other serious diseases and ailments." (42) Marvel Cooke noted that "there are any number of card readers, spiritualists, mediums and astrologers scattered throughout Harlem whose reputations for retelling the future is so good that they are kept busy from morning to night." (43) Public praise also gave some African American women mediums the opportunity to travel domestically and internationally. The Great Prophetess Elizabeth, formerly known as "Mrs. C. Gray" of Jacksonville Florida, traveled extensively throughout the South and to urban northern communities such as Harlem offering her services as a spiritual advisor. (44)

While some African American female spiritual mediums were publicly praised for their abilities, others were accused of being false seers. Black female mediums accused of being fakes were publicly reprimanded in local Harlem newspapers and often arrested by the police. The NYAN published countless stories about black female mediums who allegedly swindled customers out of money. In 1930, Lillian Tweed, a working-class factory worker, "lost her life saving [$1,140] because of the uncanny 'ability' of Mrs. Audrey Dayrelle." (45) Dayrelle was supposed to cure Tweed from her illness. (46) After failing to heal Tweed, Dayrelle was apprehended by New York City police. Dayrelle confessed to giving "her victim medicine to keep her in ill health." (47) Like many mediums who sold pills and non-prescriptive medicine to sick customers, Dayrelle violated state and federal laws that required a license to practice medicine. Similarly in 1941, Adena Minott Hinds, former president of Harlem relief organizations such as the Clio Welfare and Community Centre, Inc. and Victoria Earle Matthew's White Rose and Industrial Association, was arrested twice for conning elderly black and white women out of hundreds of dollars." (48) Some false seers were even physically assaulted and killed by unsatisfied customers. In 1930, Lawrence Collins, a disabled and unemployed worker, shot and killed Puerto Rican medium Palmira Sabola for failing to heal his legs. (49) Negative publicity and arrests of so-called fake healers impacted the perceptions of all African American mediums in Harlem. Black women mediums feared that mediumship would be viewed negatively and "hoped that publication of fraud would not bring adverse publicity to spiritualists as a group." (50)

As entrepreneurs, many black female mediums made a living from selling spiritual products such as healing remedies, love charms, blessed handkerchiefs, spiritual candles, potent powders, oils, amulets, and incenses. Mediums often claimed that these items were produced and blessed by a higher power and if purchased brought prosperity to its customers. Such products could supposedly "keep one's wife home at night, make women fertile and men sexually appealing." (51) Spiritual products such as powders and oils were usually homemade concoctions or purchased from white owned mail-order distribution companies such as the L. W. DeLaurence Company and the Morton G. Neumann's King Novelty Company. (52) "Rev. Mine. V. D. S. Armistead, pastor and founder of the Holy Star Spiritual Church, assured her congregation that her prosperity oil, which "sold from ten cents to dollar a bottle," improved her socio-economic life. She told her pre-dominantly female congregation that: "It was because of this oil, that [my] lot in life had improved and [I] recently moved into a fine apartment. God is no respecter of persons and if He will do this for me, He will do it for you if you only use the oil religiously." (53) Mme. Armistead noted that the oil was effective if individuals followed a set of precise instructions:
  Anoint the hair three times a day, by applying with the palm of the
  right hand. And twice a day, that is morning before dressing, anoint
  the body at night. While doing so, say the Lord's Prayer and the 23rd
  Psalm and ask in the name of Jesus Christ for what one desires. Use
  three drops in the bath and seven drops in the water to wash up
  around where you want prosperity. (54)

Some African Americans, especially the working-class and poor, believed in the power of spiritual oils, love potions, and other so-called "blessed" products. They trusted that such items would transform their socio-economic circumstance and perhaps transform their private lives. Some working-class blacks even used their meager incomes to purchase oils, incenses, and amulets. Writing a feature story on Rev. Mme. Armistead, Marvel Cooke attended Armistead's Holy Star Spiritual Church, observing Rev. Mme. Armistead's "prosperity oil" selling "like hot cakes." One young woman, sitting just in front of me [Cooke] who looked as though she might do well with a good meal under her belt, purchased a dollar vial." Questioning the authenticity of Mme. Armistead's power, Cooke purchased the "prosperity oil," a "spiritual balm to awaken slumbering souls." According to Cooke, the "prosperity oil" "turned out to be a cheap penetrating perfume augmented by a few drops of oil. The sickening sweet odor was enough to knock you right out of your seat." (55)

  Dreaming of numbers is an inevitable condition of the blissful state
  of sleeping. And so the obsession of signs and portents in dreams as
  interpreted by numbers created a business for local numerologists.
  hey compiled books of dreams interpreted by playing numbers. Occult
  chapels [in Harlem] have multiplied and increased their following by
  interpreting dreams by numbers and evoking messages from the dead
  with numbers attached to the message and by figuring out signs and
  portents by numbers. (56)
  -Claude McKay, 1940

African American female mediums were known for selling "lucky numbers" to policy customers. (57) Numbers players believed that mediums were critical to selecting winning numbers. During the height of the Depression era, an African American policy customer recounted that: "in an exploited, underprivileged community such as Harlem where housing and relief are acute, people seek advice from these 'seers' as a way out. If they are made more hopeful that better days are just around the corner, what real harm is there in it?" (58) The numbers racket was significant to the economic survival of many African Americans during the early twentieth century. Scholars Ivan Light and Rufus Schatzberg suggest that numbers gambling was a "substitute for the legitimate financial institutions that were absent in impoverished communities" and a "response to the absence of legitimate organizations that could provide jobs, ready capital and financial resources to a hard-pressed community." (59) Numbers gambling allowed African Americans to supplement low wages, pay bills, and buy clothes and luxury items such as radios. Writer Louise Meriwether recalled eating "high off the hog" when her father hit the number. "Daddy paid up the back rent and Mother bought us all winter coats and shoes." (60)

Black female mediums distributed "lucky numbers" to policy players in a variety of ways. Policy customers received "lucky numbers" through private consultations with spiritual mediums, from dream books, on street corners, and by attending religious services at storefront churches. For a private meeting with a medium, numbers players paid anywhere from one to three dollars a session. If the medium had a good reputation for giving winning numbers, players often waited two or three hours before seeing them. The waiting room of medium Princess Claudia, "one of Harlem's most popular card readers," was usually filled with black and white men and women. Her clients "had so much faith in her that they returned to her week after week and [were] perfectly willing to pay her a dollar for advice." (61) African American women mediums also sold numbers on Harlem street corners. "On every avenue in this community there is men and [women], some with their heads wrapped in turbans, others wearing snakes around their shoulders, who can give you the lucky number for [tomorrow]." Black female mediums regularly charged ten cents to a quarter for a set of numbers. Individuals who wanted to buy a number need money and "faith in the magical power. The "soothsayer then takes you aside, coyly pushes a slip of paper in your hand containing the lucky number and swears you to absolute secrecy lest the charm loses its potency." (62)

Dream books were a source of attaining lucky numbers. Some of the most prominent African American mediums, numerologists, and self-proclaimed "professors" of mystic science such as Herbert Gladstone "Professor Uriah Konje" Parris, author of H.P. Dream Book (1932) and Mme. Fu Futtam authored dream books. (63) Dream books were part of the commercialization of mediums-hip and supernaturalism. They served as guides to interpreting and understanding dreams, superstitions, and symbols, and were used to pick winning policy numbers. According to Marvel Cooke, "dream books are as universally read in Harlem as the Bible. At least one-fourth of the population consults them as an aid to hitting the numbers. One of the most popular is the one put out by Mme. Fu Futtam, wife of Sufi, Harlem's "Black Flitter." (64) In 1938, Fu Futtam published Madame Fu. Futtam's Magical-Spiritual Dream Book, and in 1945, she published Madame Fu Futtam's Lucky Numbers Dream Book. Mme. Fu Futtam's books sold for "thirty-five cents a copy" and could be purchased at her candle shop or at newsstands and stationery stores in Harlem. (65) Fu Futtam claimed that her books offered "the newest, most thoroughly practical and authoritative collection of dream and numbers books. Hold everything to get the New Age Daily Adviser. This book presents your wheel of fortune and your own vibrating number." (66)

"Lucky numbers" could also be purchased at storefront churches. In the mid-twenties, storefront churches "comprised thirty percent of the Negro churches in New York City; by 1930 seventy-five of Harlem churches were storefronts. (67) Storefronts were affiliated with Spiritualist and Sanctified churches, Islamic temples, and religious sects and occult chapels such as Father Divine's Peace Mission and Sufi Adbul Hamid's Universal Holy Temple Tranquility. In Harlem, many storefronts churches were Sanctified and Spiritualists. Sanctified churches had their roots in southern churches, were associated with Holiness and Pentecostal denominations, and were known for their "rituals of shouting, spirit possession, speaking in tongues." (68) Spiritualist churches emerged in northern urban cities such as New York, Detroit, and Chicago and combined elements of "Catholicism, Voodoo and Hoodoo, and black Protestantism and Islam as well as the messianic and nationalists movements of the 1920s and 1930s." (69)

While many storefront churches were known for their eccentric and unorthodox styles of preaching and religious rituals and ceremonies, they were also known for their progressive stance on gender relations.

Compared to some mainstream church denominations, many Sanctified and Spiritualist churches transcended conventional and patriarchal images of women. Comparing the role and status of black women within traditional Christian denominations to that of Sanctified and Spiritualist churches, historian and minister Miles Mark Fisher observed that:
  In no one of the popular denomination is full standing given to
  women. Regardless of a Constitutional amendment and of the fact that
  the larger percentage of church members are women, women are not
  leaders of the historical churches. Here and there a woman is on a
  Baptist church board of trustees and is sometimes licensed and
  ordained to preach by the Baptist. Only among the cults has a woman
  the highest offices of leadership, being sometimes an Archbishop or a
  Bishop or an Elder. (70)

In her important study on black women in the Baptist Church, Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham points out that African American women were restricted from high-ranking positions. She suggests that while black women "were crucial to broadening the public arm of the church and making it the most powerful institution of racial self-help in the African American community" black women church members were excluded from leadership roles. "Positions of authority and power were monopolized by men." (71) Unlike black women in the Baptist tradition, some African American women, who belong to Sanctified and Spiritualists churches, held high-ranking leadership positions as church founders, ministers, and elders.

Although numbers gambling was illegal, some black women spiritual mediums used storefronts churches to sell numbers. (72) Many African American female spiritual mediums, despite the possibly of getting arrested or being criticized by fellow mediums or religious leaders, sold numbers at church because they understood and could relate to economic conditions of the working poor. One preacher noted that: "To give numbers is no sin because the people have to live and to try to win a little money." (73) For black women mediums, selling numbers became another opportunity to increase their clientele and to make money. Mary Holmes, minister of St. Mary's Spiritual Church, sold policy numbers to her congregation. In 1927, she was "arrested when 332 allege policy slips were found in the Bible she carried [and] "found guilty of the possession of policy slips." Holmes was later convicted and sentenced to three months in the workhouse. (74)

Black female mediums like Mary Holmes obtained supposedly lucky numbers from a variety of sources including Bible hymn and scriptures numbers. Rev. Mme. Armistead informed Marvel Cooke that her lucky Psalms were "Nos. 1 and 57." Later in her NYAN editorial on Rev. Mme Armstead, Cooke wrote, "neither 157 nor any combination of that number has come out since my visit to the Holy Spiritual Church." (75) Some mediums used a "person's "vibrations" [to indicate] what numbers he or she should play," and some mediums were "placed in a coffin" and those wanting numbers picked lucky numbers from the coffin." (76) Mediums also advised their congregations and non-church members to purchase incenses and herbs, claiming that if clients burned the incenses and herbs than they would receive "lucky numbers for the week." (77)

  Preying on the superstitions and the credulous, these fakers mingle
  with those who are members of the recognized church of spiritualism
  and inveigle thousands of dollars yearly from the pockets of the
  unwary in all kinds of ways.
  - Charles Pearce, 1931

Female mediumship is considered a significant occupation in some historical and contemporary societies. David Lan's examination of mediumship in Zimbabwe suggests that spirit mediums were critical to the country's fight for independence against the British in 1980. Lan notes that some spirit mediums lived and traveled with African soldiers and often advised them on military strategy and weapons. (78) Marion Klein, in her study of the Ga society in southern Ghana, notes that mediumship "represents the most powerful and one of the most prestigious occupations open to women." (79) Similarly, Didier Betrand highlights that mediums in Cambodia were "superior to humans" and "called upon to solve everyday problems. (80) During the early twentieth century, African American female mediumship, unlike mediumship in African, Cambodian, and other societies, was not perceived as a prestigious or powerful occupation.

Some Harlem writers, middle-class reformers, and religious leaders criticized black mediums. Their perceptions of mediumship stemmed from bourgeois interpretations of magic and folklore. Some African Americans believed that magic and mediumship were manifestations of slave superstition and practiced by less educated blacks. They were skeptical of magic, mediumship, and viewed self-professed black numerologists and spiritual healers as con artists who preyed upon and took advantage of poor and superstitious Africans Americans. According to social scientist Ira De. A. Reid, some black mediums "prey [ed] upon people whose better judgment has been deadened by worry or sorrow, and reap an immense profit. Most of the people thus engaged are in the business for easy personal gain, and are out and out frauds. Half of the time the messages were wrong, most of the time they were so general they could be applied to anyone, and the rest of the time they were so jumbled nobody could understand them." (81)

Similarly, in a 1927 article in the NYAN, columnist Edgar A. Grey noted that African American mediums, astrologists, crystal ball gazers, and those men and women wearing turbans and claiming to be East Indian or "Oriental" were "fakers." (82) Grey's observations refers to African American men and women mediums who concealed their ethnic identities, claiming to be spiritual teachers from Africa, the Caribbean, or "the Orient.'" Observing Harlem in the 1920s, Winthrop D. Lane observed that: "a towel turban and a smart manner are enough to transform any Harlem colored man into a dispenser of magic to his profit.'" Blacks mediums who claimed to be from Africa, the Caribbean, or the "Orient" belonged to a larger community of African Americans who claimed different ethnic identities during the early twentieth century. Some blacks took on different ethnic identities as a form of resistance against racial oppression, and as a way to secure social mobility and broaden personal freedom. New racial identities were used to manipulate Jim Crow segregation and to gain access into segregated white facilities such as hotels, restaurants, and social events and clubs. Moreover, by adopting a foreign identity, African American mediums believed that such identities granted them authenticity and legitimacy as practitioners of magic and the spirit world. (83)

Harlem's religious community also became concerned with the increasing presence of black spiritual mediums. Some mainstream churches and religious leaders criticized black spiritual healers and mediums, as well as non-conventional religious churches, temples, and cult leaders. Associating mediumship with working poor African Americans, religious leaders such as Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. asserted that individuals who invested money into spirituals mediums and subscribed to the philosophies of storefront cult leaders such as Father Divine "were on the fringes of life, hanging between sanity and insanity and were truly a lost generation." (84) Some Sanctified and Spiritualist churches also publicly censured black spiritual mediums. Although many spiritualist churches such as the Christ Institutional Inc. believed in the power of mediumship and spiritual healing, they disapproved of individuals using the banner of religion and spiritualism to pose as mediums. Some spiritualist leaders believed that true mediums or seers used their spiritual and divine abilities to strengthen the word of God not to make money. In 1935, the Christ Institutional, Inc., a religious organization that sought to spread the "doctrine of true spiritualism" and make the distinction between the "racketeering types of spiritualism from the religious type," asserted that Harlem's black mediums targeted vulnerable blacks and swindled them out of their money. The Christ Institutional, Inc. asserted that spiritual mediums who "healed for money [were] fakers, while those who heal [ed] by faith, by laying on of hands, and by prayer, without commercializing their gift, are true spiritualists." In 1935, the religious organization held a three-day conference, focusing on methods to combat "spiritualist racketeers from preying upon the people." The group "adopted a three-point program for its fight against charlatans and fakers [and launched] a vast program of education and propaganda to acquaint the public with the true facts concerning racketeer spiritualists." The Christ Institutional, Inc.'s efforts to raise awareness and curtail the activities of "racketeer spirituals" were unsuccessful. The religious organization's attempts did not hamper the business activities of black mediums in Harlem nor did it stop ordinary men and women from seeking guidance from mediums. (85)

All African Americans did not denounce mediumship nor did all share the views of Ira De. A. Reid, Marvel Cooke or Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. Some African American writers and anthologists such as Zora Neale Hurston defended alternative religious and spiritual practices. Hurston, in several literary works, such as "Hoodoo in America," expressed her belief in magic. Published in The Journal of American Folklore in 1931, Hurston's "Hoodoo in America" provided a broad overview of conjure practices in southern communities in Louisiana, Florida, and Alabama. (86) Hurston's autobiographical piece, Mules and Men (1963) maintained that "hoodoo" was a significant element of blacks' racial identity. She noted that: "Hoodoo is burning with a flame in America, with all the intensity of a suppressed religion." Scholar Deborah G. Plant, one of Hurston's biographers, noted that Hurston "immersed herself in Hoodoo (and Vodou)" and traveled to Louisiana, Florida, and Alabama to study Hoodoo during late 1920s. (87) Mules and Men details Hurston's apprenticeship with several well-known "hoodoo doctors" including Luke Turner, nephew of renowned New Orleans antebellum spiritual worker and social activist Marie LaVeau, and "Eulalia," who "specialized in Man-and-woman cases." Hurston's endorsement of the supernatural did not change public sentiments regarding mediumship nor did it shift the views or sentiments of those middle-class reformers and writers who denounced magic and mediumship. (88)

With the onset of public criticism by some Harlem reformers, writers, and religious groups, many African American women mediums were unable to defend or protect their names and reputations. It is unclear if black female mediums established gender-based organizations that attempted to combat or challenge negative perceptions about their abilities and religious affiliations. Some black women mediums, especially those who worked as mediums primarily for money, labored independently and viewed each other in a competitive way. Their desired to profit from their self-proclaimed talents and to secure as many clients as possible prevented some black female mediums from establishing collective social networks. Some African American women mediums did affiliated with the National Colored Spiritual Association (NCSAC) and other groups that actively sought to present positive public images of spiritual mediums. Founded in Cleveland, Ohio in 1925, after a split from the dominantly white National Spiritual Association (NSA), the NCSAC provided a platform for African American men and women mediums to combat false perceptions of mediumship. The organization promoted spirit possession and prophecy through mediumship, desired to protect the constitutional rights of spiritualists and mediums, and held several public forums that focused on presenting positive public images of black spiritual mediums. (89)


African American female mediumship was significant to Harlem's black community during the early twentieth century. African American women spiritual mediums, whether viewed as "true seers" or con artists, provided a service for many black Harlemites. Mediumship represented an alternative method of resolving issues of love, unemployment and economic disparity, and offered optimism to those who desired to change their immediate and future circumstances. More importantly, through mediumship, African American customers gained a sense of empowerment and optimism, and the ability to control and define their lives.


The author thanks Pero G. Dagbovie. Jeffrey E. Anderson, Yvonne Chireau, and all anonymous reviewers of the Journal of Afro-Americans in New York Life and History for their insightful comments and suggestions.

(1) LaShawn Harris is a Visiting Assistant Professor of History at Michigan State University.

(2) "FTC Charges Miss Cleo with Deceptive Advertising. Billing and Collection Practices."

(3) John W. Blassingame, The Slave Community: Plantation Life in the Antebellum South (New York: Oxford University, 1972). 109-110: B. A. Botkin, Lay My Burden Down: A Folk History of Slavery (University of Chicago Press, 1945); Savannah Unit Georgia Writers' Project Works Projects Administration, Drums and Shadows: Survival Studies Among the Georgia Coastal Negroes (Athens, GA: The University of Georgia Press. 1940).

(4) William Wells Brown, My Southern Home, or The South and Its People (Boston: A. G. Brown, 1880), 70.

(5) Frances Ann Kemble, Journal of a Residence on a Georgia Plantation in 1838-1839 (New York, 1863, reprinted by Cosimo, 2007). 72-73: William Dusinberre, Them Dark Days: Slavery in the American Rice Swamps (New York, NY: Oxford University, 1995), 213

(6) Yvonne P. Chireau, Black Magic: Religion and the African American Conjuring Tradition (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003), 17: Eugene Genovese, Roll, Jordan. Roll: The World the Slaves Made (New York: Vintage books. 1976), 222.

(7) Yvonne P. Chireau, "The Uses of the Supernatural: Towards a History of Black Women's Magical Practices," in A Mighty Baptism: Race, Gender, and the Creation of American Protestantism, ed. Susan Juster and Lisa MacFarlane (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1996). 177-178.

(8) Marvel Cooke. "Million Dollar Take." The New York Amsterdam News-May 25, 1940, 10.

(9) Marion Kilson, "Ambivalence and Power: Mediums in Ga Traditional Religion," Journal of Religion in Africa. 4, (1971-1972): 172.

(10) Yvonne P. Chireau, Black Magic: Religion and the African American Conjuring Tradition, 93.

(11) Throughout the paper, 1 use the term medium and mediumship to denote black women who were conjurers, astrologists, numerologist tarot card readers, and practitioners of magic and supernaturalism.

(12) Victoria L. Wolcott, Remaking Respectability: African American Women in Interwar Detroit (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2001), 130.

(13) There is a growing body of literature on black magic and religion. Harry Hyatt Middleton, Hoodoo--Conjuration--Witchcraft--Rootwork: Beliefs Accepted by Many Negroes and White Persons (Hannibal. MO: Western Publishers, 1890): Hans A. Baer, The Black Spiritual Movement: A Religious Response to Racism (Knoxville, TN: University of Tennessee Press, 1984); Victoria L. Wolcott, "Mediums, Messages, and Lucky Numbers: African-American Female Spiritualists and Numbers Runners in Interwar Detroit;" Susan Starr Sered, Priestess, Mother Sacred Sister: Religions Dominated by Women (Oxford, NY: Oxford University Press, 1994); Anthony B. Pinn, Varieties of African American Religious Experience (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1998); Carolyn Morrow Long, Spiritual Merchants: Religion, Magic, and Commerce (Knoxville, TN: University of Tennessee Press, 2001); Jeffrey E. Anderson, Conjure in African American Society (Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State University Press, 2005); Long. A New Orleans Voudou Priestess: The Legend and Reality of Marie LaVeau (Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida, 2006); Gayle T. Tate, The Black Urban Community: From Dusk Till Dawn, (New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006); Yvonne Chireau, Black Magic: Religion and the African American Conjuring Traditions (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2006).

(14) African American men also became mediums, numerologists, spiritual healers, and self-professed "professors of African. Oriental Science and white and black magic." Male spiritual workers such as "African" medium Prof. Akpan Aga, like black women mediums, sold candles, incense, lucky numbers, authored dream books, and some established spiritualist schools. "Display Ad 6," The New York Amsterdam News, November 29, 1922, 2: "Display Ad 21." The New York Amsterdam News, October 5, 1932, 7: Vijay Prashad. Everybody was Kung Fu Fighting: Afro-Asian Connections and The Myth of Cultural Purity (Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 2001), 90: W. F Elkins, "William Lauron DeLaurence and Jamaican Folk Religion." Folklore, 97(1986): 215-218; "Spiritual School to Open." The New York Amsterdam News, September 21, 1932, 7: "Classified Ad 21," The New York Amsterdam News, October 5, 1932, 7: "Classified Ad 50," The New York Amsterdam News, February 14, 1934, 14; "Promise to Help Capture Mystic," The New York Amsterdam News, March 22, 1933, 16.

(15) "Classified Ad 2." The New York Amsterdam News, March 1, 1933. 7.

(16) Marvel Cooke, "Million Dollar Take," The New York Amsterdam News, June 1, 1940. 11.

(17) Between 1910 and 1940, approximately 1,750.000 southern blacks migrated to northern and mid-western cities in New York, Ohio, and Illinois in hopes of securing industrial and manufacturing jobs, opened by World War I. Cary D. Wintz, Black Culture and the Harlem Renaissance (Houston: Rice University, 1988), 24; Joe Trotter, The Great Migration in Historical Perspective: New Dimensions of Race, Class, and Gender (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1991).

(18) Jacqueline Jones, Labor of Love, Labor of Sorrow: Black Women, Work and the Family, from Slavery to the Present (New York. NY: Vintage Books, 1985), 164, 167.

(19) Cheryl Lynn Greenberg, Or Does It Explode?: Black Harlem in the Great Depression (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1991), 24.

(20) Ibid.

(21) Black workers offered hotbeds. Night workers slept in bed by day and day laborers slept in the same bed that night. Cary D. Wintz, Black Culture and the Harlem Renaissance (Houston, TX: Rice University, 1988). 27; Greenberg, Or Does It Explode?: Black Harlem in the Great Depression, 30.; David Levering Lewis, When Harlem Was in l'ogue (New York, NY: Penguin Book, 1997), 108.

(22) Cheryl Lynn Greenberg, Or Does It Explode?: Black Harlem in the Great Depression, 66.

(23) Marvel Cooke, "Modern Slaves," The New York Amsterdam News, October 17, 1937, 19.

(24) Jean Collier Brown, The Negro Woman Worker, Women's Bureau, Bulletin No. 165 (Washington, DC: 1938), 1-4; Southern Worker, February 14, 1931: Mary Anderson. "The Negro Woman Worker," American Federationist, October 1932; Marvel Cooke and Ella Baker, "The Bronx Slave Market." The Crisis, November 1935.

(25) "Single Women, Men Hard Hit." The New York Amsterdam News, November 19, 1930, 3.

(26) Joe William Trotter. Jr., "From a Raw Deal to a New Deal?, 1929-1945." in To Make Our World Anew,

ed. Robin D. G. Kelley and Earl Lewis (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2000), 409.

(27) Donald W. Light. From Migrant Enclaves to Mainstream: Reconceptualizing Informal Economic Behavior," Theory and Society 33 (December, 2004): 705; Joseph P. Gaughan and Louis A. Ferman, "Toward an Understanding of the Informal Economy," Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 493 (September 1987): 47-63; Karrie Ann Snyder, "Routes to the Informal Economy in New York's East Village: Crisis, Economics, and Identity." Sociological Perspectives 47 (Summer 2004): 215-240.

(28) Victoria Wolcott, Remaking Respectability: African American Women in Interwar Detroit, 95.

(29) Cary D. Wintz, Black Culture and the Harlem Renaissance (Houston: Rice University. 1988); David Levering Lewis, When Harlem Was In Vogue ("New York, NY: Penguin Books), 1997; Cheryl Lynn Greenberg, Or Does It Explode?: Black Harlem in the Great Depression (New York, NY: Oxford University, 1997).

(30) Yvonne Chireau, "Hidden Traditions: Black Religion, Magic, and Alternative Spiritual Beliefs in Womanist Perspective," in Perspectives on Womanist Theology Black Church Scholars Series: Volume VII. ed. Jacquelyn Grant (Atlanta, GA.: The ITC Press, 1995), 75-76.

(31) A. M. Wendell Malliet. "We Prove What Other Churches Teach," The New York Amsterdam News, February 5, 1938, 5.

(32) H. Norton Browne, "You Pray for Me ... Elder Horn, Latest Exhorter, Is Unusual Person Evangelist Professes Witchcraft," The New York Amsterdam News, October 13, 1934, 11; Demetrius K. Williams, An End to this Strife: The Politics of Gender in African American Churches (Minneapolis. MN: Fortress Press, 2004, 173: "Mother Horn in Fight with Dance Hall Owner," The New York Age, December 12, 1959, 1.

(33) Soundex Index to Petitions for Naturalization filed in Federal, Slate, and Local Courts located in New York City, 1792-1989 (New York, NY: National Archives and Records Administration, Northeast Region: "Classified Ad 8," The New York Amsterdam News, September 18, 1937, 23; Roi Ottley, New World A-Coming: Inside Black America (Cleveland, OH: The World Publishing Company, 1945), 55.

(34) Prior to his marriage to Matthews, Hamid had a contract marriage to Harlem's famed "Numbers Queen" Stephanie St. Clair. Their marriage ended when St. Clair shot Hamid in 1938. LaShawn Harris, "'Madame Queen of Policy': Madame Stephanie St. Clair and African American Women's Participation in Harlem's Informal Economy" Black Women, Families & Gender 2 (Fall 2008): 53-76; "Mme. Fu Futtam Wed To Sufi Abdul Hamid," The New York Amsterdam News, April 23, 1938, 5: Wilbur Young. "Activities of Bishop Amiru, Al-Mumin Sufi A. Hamid," Writers Project (New York. N.Y.) Collection. 1936-1941, Reel #1, Schomburg Research Center for Black Culture, New York Public Library: Marvel Cooke. "Bishop Sufi A. A. M. M. S. A. H. Unveils his Universal Buddhist Holy Temple to Public," The New York Amsterdam News, April 23, 1938, 5.

(35) Marvel Cooke, "Bishop Sufi A. A. M. M. S. A. H. Unveils his Universal Buddhist Holy Temple to Public," The New York Amsterdam News, April 23, 1938, 5.

(36) Heike Raphael-Hernandez and Shannon Steen, AfroAsian Encounters: Culture, History, Politics (New York, NY: New York University Press, 2006). 1; Vijay Prashad. Everybody was Kung Fu Fighting: Afro-Asian Connections and the Myth of Cultural Purity (Boston: Beacon Press, 2001).

(37) Marvel Cooke, "Million Dollar Take," The New York Amsterdam News, May 25, 1940, 10.

(38) Zora Neale Hurston, "Hoodoo in America" The Journal of American Folklore 174 (Oct.-Dec., 1931): 320.

(39) "She Made 'Em Talk and Also Walk," The New York Amsterdam News, December 14. 1927. 11: "Final Rites for Rev. Broy, The New York Amsterdam News, March 15, 1961, 4.

(40) Nell Dodson, "Link Forbes Girl's Death with Spirits," The New York Amsterdam News, November 25, 1939, 5.

(41) Ibid.

(42) "Spiritual Healer Awaiting Sentence," The New York Amsterdam News, December 14, 1927, 18.

(43) Marvel Cooke, "Million Dollar Take," The New York Amsterdam News, June 1, 1940, 11.

(44) Classified 7," The New York Amsterdam News, October 28, 1931, 14.

(45) "Spiritual Faker Bleeds Victim of $1,140, Promising to Restore Health," The New York Amsterdam News, November 12, 1930, 2.

(46) Ibid.

(47) Ibid.

(48) "White Rose Home Activities Resumes," The New York Amsterdam News September 8, 1926. 5; "Centre to Give Food to Needy," The New York Amsterdam News, November 29, 1933. 4; "Held in Theft of Large Sum." The New York Amsterdam News, March 1, 1941. 1: "Spiritualist Receives Chance to "Catch Up." The New York Amsterdam News, April 5, 1941, 1.

(49) "Porto Rican Spiritualist Slain." The New York Amsterdam News, June 11 1930, 2.

(50) "Held in Theft of Large Sum." The New York Amsterdam News, March 1, 1941, 1.

(51) Gilbert Osofsky, Harlem: The Making of a Ghetto (New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1963), 143.

(52) Carolyn Morrow Long, Spiritual Merchants: Religion, Magic, and Commerce (Knoxville, IN: University of Tennessee; Press, 2001).

(53) Marvel Cooke. "Million Dollar fake." The New York Amsterdam News, May 25, 1940, 10.

(54) Ibid.

(55) Ibid.

(56) Claude McKay, Harlem: Negro Metropolis (New York: E. P. Dutton and Co., 1940).

(57) Policy refers to number games in which numbers are used to select winners. Players picked a set of three digit numbers between 000 and 999 and hoped those numbers matched the winning numbers selected by the clearinghouse, a racetrack or drawn by those policy operator. Section 324 of the New York State Penal Code of 1895 declared lotteries to be unlawful and a public nuisance. Under this law, individuals that "contrives, proposes, draws a lottery" commits a felony and "other aspects of operating a lottery, for example selling lottery tickets, and advertising lotteries. After September 1, 1901, the New York State Legislature added new measures to the 1895 law, which included Section 344a--; 344b: Possessing policy slips and Section 344c: Removing persons occupying premise used for playing policy. Rufus Schatzberg and Robert J. Kelly, African-American Organized Crime: A Social History. (New York NY: Garland Publishing, 1996), 62; Claude McKay, Harlem: Negro Metropolis (New York. NY: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc., 1940). 107-108: "Evolution of the 'Numbers' Game in N.Y. from Bolita." The New York Age, January 31, 1925, 1-2; Rufus Schatzberg, Black Organized Crime in Harlem: 1920-1930 (New York, NY: Garland Publishing, Inc. 1993), 97: "Why Do The Federal Officials Ignore 'Hooch' Violations in Harlem? Why Do Police Let 'Numbers' Men Do Business," The New York Age, July 10, 1926. 2: Helen Lawrenson, Stranger at the Party (New York, NY: Random House, 1975), 174.

(58) Marvel Cooke, "Million Dollar Take," The New York Amsterdam News, May 25, 1940, 10.

(59) Rufus Schatzberg, "African American Organized Crime" in Handbook of Organized Crime in the United States, eds. Robert J. Kelly, Ko-Lin Chin and Rufus Schatzberg. (Westpoint, CT: Greenwood Press, 1994), 192; Ivan Light, "Numbers Gambling Among Blacks: A Financial Institution," American Sociological Review 42 (December 1977): 901.

(60) Gerda Lerner, Black Women in White America. (New York, NY: Vintage Books. A Division of Random House, Inc., 1972), 309.

(61) Marvel Cooke, "Million Dollar Take," The New York Amsterdam News, June 1, 1940, 11.

(62) Ken Jessamy, "Harlem Fakers," The New York Amsterdam News, August 28, 1937, 11.

(63) Claude McKay, Harlem: Negro Metropolis, 79-80, 106; "Dream Book Author Causes Arrest Three for Copyright Infringements," The New York Amsterdam News, November 5, 1930, 1; "Oberlin Goes in for Dream Books and Policy," The Chicago Defender, June 3, 1939, 23.

(64) Marvel Cooke, "Million Dollar Take," The New York Amsterdam News, May 25, 1940, 10. For more discussion on Hamid, see Clarence Lusane, Hitler 's Black Victims: The Historical Experiences of Afro-Germans, European Black, Africans, and African American in the Nazi Era (New York, NY: Routledge, 2002), 121; Winston McDowell, "Race and Ethnicity During the Harlem Jobs Campaign" The Journal of Negro History 69 (Summer-Autumn, 1984): 134-146.

(65) Madame Fu Futtam, Madame Fu, Futtam's Magical-Spiritual Dream Book (New York, NY: Empire Publishing, 1937); Marvel Cooke, "Million Dollar Take," The New York Amsterdam News, May 25, 1940, 10: "Classified Ad 8," The New York Amsterdam News, September 18, 1938, 23: Mme. Fn Futtam Wed To Sufi Abdul Hamid," The New York Amsterdam News, April 23, 1938, 5

(66) Madame Fu Futtam, Madame Fu Futtam's Magical-Spiritual Dream Book (New York, NY: Empire Publishing, 1937)

(67) Seth M. Scheiner, "The Negro Church and the Northern City, 1890-1930." in Seven on Black: Reflections on the Negro Experience in America, ed. William G. Shade and Roy C. Herrenkohl (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott, 1969), 100-101.

(68) Victoria Wolcott, "Mediums, Messages, and Lucky Numbers: African-American Female Spiritualists and Numbers Runners in interwar Detroit." 290.

(69) Ibid., 294: Hans A. Baer, The Black Spiritual Movement: A Religious Response to Racism (Knoxville, TN: The University of Tennessee Press, 1984), 17-18. Arthur Huff Fauset, Black Gods of the Metropolis: Negro Religious Cults of the Urban North (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1944).

(70) Miles Mark Fisher, "Organized Religion and the Cults," The Crisis, January 1937, 10.

(71) Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham, Righteous Discontent: The Women's Movement In the Black Baptist Church, 1880-1920 (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1993). 7-8.

(72) Not all black women mediums sold numbers. Some disapproved of gambling and believed that numbers playing was a sin. Baer, The Black Spiritual Movement: A Religious Response to Racism, 79-80.

(73) St. Clair Drake and Horace Cayton, Black Metropolis: A Study of Negro Life in a Northern City (New York: Harcourt Brace and Co., 1945). 476.

(74) Spiritual Worker Caught in Policy Net." The New York Amsterdam News, November 9, 1927, 4.

(75) Marvel Cooke, "Million Dollar Take." The New York Amsterdam News, May 25, 1940. 10.

(76) Victoria Wolcott, "Mediums, Messages, and Lucky Numbers: African-American Female Spiritualists and Numbers Runners in Interwar Detroit," 302.

(77) Ken Jessamy, "Harlem's Fakers." 11.

(78) David Lan, Guns & Rain: Guerrillas & Spirit Mediums in Zimbabwe (Berkeley, CA.: University of California Press, 1985). 5.

(79) Marion Kilson, "Ambivalence and Power: Mediums in Ga Traditional Religion," Journal of Religion in Africa 4, (1971-1972): 171-172.

(80) Didier Betrand, "The Names and Identities of the "Boramey" Spirits Possessing Cambodian Mediums," Asian Folklore Studies 60, (2001): 45.

(81) Ira De. A. Reid. "Let Us Prey," Opportunity. 1926, 277.

(82) Edgar M. Grey, "Harlem-The Mecca of Fakers," The New York Amsterdam News, March 30, 1927. 16.

(83) Winthrop D. Lane, "Ambushed in the City: The Grim Side of Harlem," in Alain Locke, Harlem: Mecca of the New Negro, 1925, 693: Phillip Brian Harper, "Passing for What? Racial Masquerade and the Demands of Upward Mobility," Callaloo, 21 (Spring 1998): 388; Gayle Wald, Crossing the Line: Racial Bossing in the Twentieth Century U. S. Literature and Culture (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2000): Vijay Prashad, Everybody was Kung Fu Fighting: Afro-Asian Connections and The Myth of Cultural Purity (Boston: Beacon Press, 2001).

(84) Robert Weisbrot, Father Divine and the Struggle for Racial Equality. (Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1983), 176.

(85) "Drive Is Planned Against Spiritualist Racketeers." The New York Amsterdam News, October 26, 1935. 1.

(86) Zora Neale Hurston, "Hoodoo in America." 320-414.

(87) Deborah G. Plant, Zora Neale Hurston: A Biography of the Spirit (Westport, CT: Praeger, 2007). 101.

(88) Ibid. 92-93, 101-102; Zora Neale Hurston, Mules and Men (1978; reprinted, Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1935) 197-199, 200.

(89) "Spiritualists Withdraw from General Assembly," The New York Amsterdam News, July 22, 1931. A9: Nina Mjagkij. Organizing Black America: An Encyclopedia of African American Associations (New York, NY: Garland, Publishing, 2001), 721-722; Stephen D. Glazier, Encyclopedia of African and African-American Religions (New York, NY: Routledge, 2001), 320.

LaShawn Harris (1)
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Date:Jan 1, 2011
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