Bumpy Johnson
Born October 31, 1905Charleston, South Carolina
Died July 7, 1968(1968-07-07) (aged 62)New York City
Alias(es) Bumpy
Occupation Drug Trafficker, Bootlegger, Mob boss, and a number runner
Spouse Mayme Hatcher Johnson
Parents Margaret Moultrie, William Johnson


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Bumpy Johnson

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Ellsworth "Bumpy" Johnson - Narcotics - On Alcatraz 1954-1958 and 1959/1963

Ellsworth Raymond "Bumpy" Johnson (October 31, 1905 - July 7, 1968) was an African-American mob boss and bookmaker in New York City's Harlem neighborhood. The main Harlem associate of the Genovese crime family, Johnson's criminal career has inspired films and television.

Early life

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Johnson was born in Charleston, South Carolina on October 31, 1905. Johnson derived his nickname "bumpy" from a bump on the back of his head. When he was 10, his older brother, Willie, was accused of killing a white man. Afraid of a possible lynch mob, his parents mortgaged their tiny home to raise money to send Willie up north to live with relatives. As Bumpy got older his parents worried about his short temper and insolence toward whites, so they sent him to live with his older sister, (Mabel) in Harlem in 1919.

Criminal career

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Johnson was an associate of numbers queen Madame Stephanie St. Clair.

After being released from prison in 1932, Bumpy learned that notorious gangster Dutch Schultz, who was known as the Beer Baron of the Bronx, had moved in on the numbers racket in Harlem. Any numbers banker who refused to turn over his or her numbers operation to Schultz was targeted for violence, and even death. When Schultz's people raided one of Madame Queen's number spots—forcing her to hide in a trash bin—Bumpy decided it was time to put Schultz in his place. With a small crew of armed men—financed by St. Clair and a few other renegade numbers bankers—Bumpy waged guerilla warfare against Schultz and his gang. Though far outnumbered by the Jewish mobster's forces, Bumpy and his men managed to fight Schultz to a standstill until 1935. In October of that year Schultz and three of his bodyguards were shot and killed on Charlie "Lucky" Luciano's orders.

Luciano took over most of Schultz's number operations in Harlem, but made a deal with Bumpy which allowed the bankers who had fought for their independence to remain independent. That deal made Bumpy an instant hero in the eyes of many Harlemites, who were impressed that a brash 27-year-old black man could actually successfully wage war against the Jewish mob, and cut deals with the Italian Mafia.

Bumpy was soon the toast of Harlem, and became friends with many Harlem luminaries such as Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, Lena Horne, Billie Holiday, Sugar Ray Robinson. He also became sort of an unofficial crime boss of Harlem; no one could conduct criminal activities in his section of New York without first going through him.

In 1948 he met 34-year-old Mayme Hatcher at Frasier's Restaurant on Seventh Avenue in Harlem; and the two were married six months later.

By the summer of 1952, Bumpy's activities were being reported in the celebrity people section of Jet, an American weekly marketed toward African American readers, founded in 1951 by John H. Johnson of Johnson Publishing Company in Chicago, Illinois. That same year, Bumpy was indicted in New York for conspiracy to sell heroin (he claimed to have been framed, and many people believed him) and was sentenced to fifteen years in prison. Two years later, Jet reported in its crime section that Johnson began his sentence after losing an appeal. He served the majority of his prison time at Alcatraz Prison in San Francisco Bay, California as inmate No. 1117, and it has been said that he helped three fellow inmates escape by arranging to have a boat pick them up once they broke out and made it to the San Francisco Bay. Bumpy was released from prison in 1963 and returned to Harlem, where he was greeted with an impromptu parade.

Johnson was arrested more than 40 times and would eventually serve three prison terms for narcotics-related charges. In December 1965, Johnson staged a sit-down strike in a police station, refusing to leave, as a protest against their continued surveillance. He was charged with "refusal to leave a police station" but was acquitted by a judge.


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Bumpy was under a federal indictment for drug conspiracy when he died of heart failure on Sunday, July 7, 1968 at age 62. He was at Wells Restaurant in Harlem shortly before 2 a.m., and the waitress had just served him coffee, a chicken leg, and hominy grits, when he keeled over clutching his chest. Childhood friend Finley Hoskins was there, and someone ran down the street to the Rhythm Club to get another childhood pal, Junie Byrd. When Junie arrived he cradled Bumpy in his arms, and Bumpy briefly opened his eyes and smiled, then fell into unconsciousness. He was taken, by ambulance, to Harlem Hospital where he was pronounced dead. He is buried in Woodlawn Cemetery.

In popular culture

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  • In an episode of Unsolved Mysteries, it is reported that Johnson allegedly helped the three escapees of Alcatraz get to the shores of San Francisco. It is said that he arranged for a boat to pick the three men up out of the bay. The boat then dropped the escapees off at Pier 13 in San Francisco's Hunters Point District.
  • Moses Gunn portrayed "Bumpy Jonas" a character based upon Johnson in the 1971 film Shaft.
  • The struggle between Bumpy Johnson and Dutch Schultz was portrayed in the film Hoodlum, directed by Bill Duke. In the film, released on August 27, 1997, Johnson is portrayed by Laurence Fishburne.
  • Fishburne previously played a character based on Bumpy Johnson, "Bumpy Rhodes," in the 1984 film The Cotton Club.
  • Johnson was portrayed by Clarence Williams III in the 2007 film American Gangster as the mentor of Frank Lucas. Williams had previously appeared in the film Hoodlum as a rival of Johnson's, in the employ of Dutch Schultz.
  • Bumpy gets a mention in 'The Wire' Season 3 Episode 2 written by Richard Price just before Tree (dealer for Cheese Wagstaff) kills Jelly over a dog fight in which Cheese's dog lost. Three low level gangsters discuss an incident when Bumpy allegedly attacked a police station single handedly. This is expanded upon in Richard Price's Audio Commentary for that Episode.
  • Johnson is mentioned in Marvel Comics’ Punisher Noir #2 as the employer of Barracuda, a hitman who killed the Punisher’s father (though his name is misspelled “Bumby”).
  • Johnson was also mentioned on a Lupe Fiasco song called "Failure".
  • Bumpy Johnson passed his criminal empire to Frank Lucas, depicted in the film American Gangster. Bumpy's assistant at the end of the movie is played by the actor who later played Bumpy in American Gangster.
  • Bumpy is mentioned in the lyrics of a popular Mac Dre song, Gennie of the Lamp-"I'm Samuel and Denzel in one body and bumpy faced johnson, I'll kill somebody."
  • Prodigy titled his first full release following being released from prison in 2011 The Ellsworth Bumpy Johnson EP.

Some of the content on this page has been provided by the following page on Wikipedia.org: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bumpy_Johnson

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