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.
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. Though his cabaret ran without a license and survived
raid after raid he maintained that he did not pay for Police
One of the people who often hit Wilkins up for a hand out was
a gambler and drug addict named Julius “Yellow Charleston” Miller. 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 telling “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
After the 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
a law back then to have a cool nick name)
“Yellow Charleston” ran up to
Wilkins saying, “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
finest man who ever lived”.
Wilkins dropped to the ground as “Yellow
Charleston” stuck his gun in “Yum Yum’s” face and pulled the trigger. Lady
Luck was smiling on “Yum Yum” however and the gun did not go off. “Yellow Charleston” then forced
a taxi to stop at gunpoint and made the driver take him to Jersey
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.
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.
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.