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Monday, May 24, 2010

The Barren gets shot down.

Known as "The man with the big bankroll" fifty-seven year old Barren D. Wilkins, owner of the Exclusive Club, was the most powerful man in what the Times called Harlem's "Black belt". Since he was an easy touch for anyone in need he was quite popular in the neighborhood.

Wilkins arrived in Harlem back in 1903 and began to prosper with a cabaret that his brother owned. In addition to New York City clubs he was the financial backer of resorts in Atlantic City and was also active in the sporting world where he financed heavy weight champion Jack Johnson as well as all the teams in New York’s Negro League.

Though apolitical, Wilkins became important in elections swaying votes to either the Democrats or Republicans, his influence supporting the party whose victory would best serve Wilkins and though his cabaret ran without a license and survived raid after raid he maintained that he did not pay for Police protection.

One of the people who often hit Wilkins up for a hand out was a gambler and drug addict named Julius “Yellow Charleston” Miller and on this date in 1924, Miller was shooting dice with five other men. “Yellow Charleston” went broke and tried to hit another player, John Parker, up for a loan but Parker refused and informed “Yellow Charleston” that if he was out of money he was out of the game. "Yellow" responded by drawing a gun and shooting Parker in the stomach.

After shooting Parker, “Yellow Charleston” ran out of the basement and up the street to the Exclusive Club where Wilkins was standing out front speaking with a guy named Benny “Yum Yum”. (Editors note: I believe it was law back then to have a cool nick name)

“Yellow Charleston” ran up to Wilkins and said, “I just shot a guy and need a hundred dollars for a get away.” “I haven’t got that much money.” Wilkins replied. An answer that “Yellow Charleston” found unacceptable. Desperate, "Yellow Charleston"drew his gun and sent three bullets into, as he would be subsquently described by his fellow Harlemites, “The finest man who ever lived”.

As Wilkins dropped to the ground “Yellow Charleston” stuck his gun in “Yum Yum’s” face and pulled the trigger but lady luck smiled on “Yum Yum” and the gun did not go off. “Yellow Charleston” forced a taxi to stop at gunpoint and made the driver take him to Jersey City.

Wilkins and Parker were taken to the hospital where the former succumbed to his wounds. As word of the shooting spread a large mob of Wilkins friends, supporters and those he helped over the years congregated at the Exclusive Club and for blocks around. Amidst the sobbing and wailing folks extolled the memory of Wilkins and his generosity. Then the got angry.

A rumor spread that “Yellow Charleston” was still in Harlem so vigilante groups began searching the streets for the man who was actually walking about Jersey City wondering what his next move would be. The following day, fearing that he would be lynched by the vengeance seeking residents of Harlem, “Yellow Charleston” came back to the city and surrendered to the police.

Though spared a lynching "Yellow Charleston" paid the price for murdering Wilkins by copping a squat in Sing Sing's hot seat on September 17, 1925.

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