Bumpy Johnson in USP Leavenworth, January 11, 1954
Ellsworth Raymond Johnson
October 31, 1905
|Died||July 7, 1968 (aged 62)|
|Resting place||Woodlawn Cemetery (Bronx, New York)|
|Conviction(s)||Drug conspiracy (1952)|
|Criminal penalty||15 years' imprisonment|
Johnson was born in Charleston, South Carolina on October 31, 1905, to Margaret Moultrie and William Johnson. 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. Johnson's nickname "Bumpy" is derived from a bump on the back of his head. As Johnson grew older, his parents worried about his short temper and insolence towards whites, and in 1919 he was sent to live with his older sister Mabel in Harlem. Johnson dropped out of high school and began working unruly jobs. Gangster William Hewett started to notice him. Johnson then began working for him and this was a beginning to his life of crime.
Johnson was an associate of numbers queen Madame Stephanie St. Clair. He became St Clair's principal lieutenant in the 1930s. Johnson and St. Clair aimed to start a war against New York mob boss Dutch Schultz. The fight resulted in more than 40 murders and several kidnappings. Eventually the fight on their end was lost, ending with a deal for Johnson.
In 1952, Johnson's activities were reported in the celebrity people section of Jet. That same year, Johnson was sentenced to 15 years in prison for a drug conspiracy conviction related to heroin. Two years later, Jet reported in its crime section that Johnson began his sentence after losing an appeal. He served the majority of that sentence at Alcatraz Prison in San Francisco Bay, California as inmate No. 1117, and was released in 1963 on parole.
Johnson was arrested more than 40 times and served two 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.
Johnson was under a federal indictment for drug conspiracy when he died of congestive heart failure on July 7, 1968, at the age of 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. Friend Frank Lucas claims to have been present (yet this has been refuted), and someone ran down the street to the Rhythm Club to get his childhood friend, Junie Byrd. When Byrd arrived, Lucas cradled Bumpy in his arms, and Johnson 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 The Bronx, New York City.
Johnson married Mayme Hatcher just six months from their first time meeting each other. They were married in October 1948. Johnson had two daughters, Ruthie and Elease, one of whom is from another relationship. His wife died in May 2009 at the age of 94.
In popular culture
- In the 1971 film Shaft, Moses Gunn portrays "Bumpy Jonas", a character based upon Johnson.
- In the 1972 film Come Back Charleston Blue, the title character is loosely based on Bumpy Johnson, a criminal who is looked upon as a positive role model among the people.
- In the 1979 film Escape from Alcatraz, Paul Benjamin plays a character based on Bumpy Johnson, "English".
- In the 1984 film The Cotton Club, Laurence Fishburne plays a character based on Bumpy Johnson, "Bumpy Rhodes".
- In the 1997 film Hoodlum, Johnson is again portrayed by Fishburne.
- In the 1999 film Life, musician Rick James plays a Harlem gangster, "Spanky Johnson", who was loosely inspired by Bumpy Johnson.
- In the 2007 film American Gangster, Johnson is portrayed by Clarence Williams III .
- 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.
- In the second episode of the third season of HBO's The Wire, "All Due Respect", Bumpy is mentioned 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.
- Cable network Epix premiered the crime drama television series Godfather of Harlem in Fall 2019. Forest Whitaker plays Johnson. The series was created by executive producers Markuann Smith, Chris Brancato and Paul Eckstein, who are producing with ABC Signature Studios.
- Prodigy titled his first full release following being released from prison in 2011 The Ellsworth Bumpy Johnson EP, which was followed by The Bumpy Johnson Album.
- Harlem Godfather: The Rap on My Husband, Ellsworth "Bumpy" Johnson
- Tyler, Gus (1967) . Organized crime in America: a book of readings. Ann Arbor, Michigan: University of Michigan Press. p. 242. ISBN 978-0-472-06127-3. OCLC 247980358. Retrieved March 27, 2011.
- "Bumpy Johnson". Biography. Retrieved 2020-04-08.
- "Queenie and Bumpy". crimelibrary. 2007. Archived from the original on 2008-04-17. Retrieved 2008-04-09.
- Watson, Elwood (2008-02-13). "Ellsworth "Bumpy" Johnson (1906-1968)". Retrieved 2020-04-08.
- "People". Jet. 1952. Retrieved March 27, 2011.
- "The True Story Behind Godfather of Harlem". time.com. September 26, 2019.
- "Crime". Jet. Johnson Publishing Company. 5 (9): 49. January 7, 1954. ISSN 0021-5996. Retrieved March 27, 2011.
-  Archived December 13, 2010, at the Wayback Machine
- John Howard Johnson (1980). Fact not fiction in Harlem. Northern Type Printing, Inc. p. 119. ASIN B00072X07G.p.103+
- "[Video] Mayme Hatcher Johnson: Wife of Notorious Harlem Gangster Ellsworth". Black Then. 2017-11-13. Retrieved 2020-04-08.
- "Mayme Hatcher Johnson, Author and Widow of Harlem Gangster Bumpy Johnson, dead at 94". BlackRadioNetwork. Retrieved 2020-04-08.
- Queenan, Joe (17 November 2007). "Joe Queenan on 'Bumpy' Johnson, the most feared criminal in 1930s Harlem". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 5 April 2018.
- "Bumpy Johnson Profile - Famous Bookmaker and Mob Boss from New York City". www.gamblingsites.org.
- Denene Millner (24 August 1997). "FROM HARLEM TO 'HOODLUM' MEET THE BLACK MOBSTER WHOSE 'BUMPY' LIFE OF CRIME IS NOW A NEW MOVIE". Daily News. New York. Retrieved 5 April 2018.
- "Ellsworth Raymond 'Bumpy' Johnson - On this day..." dayshistory.wordpress.com. Retrieved 5 April 2018.
- Hunter, Stephen (27 August 1997). "'HOODLUM' AIMS HIGH IF NOT ALWAYS TRUE". The Washington Post. Retrieved 5 April 2018.
- "Alcatraz Escape - Unsolved Mysteries". Retrieved 5 April 2018.
- Petski, Denise. "Forest Whitaker To Topline Straight-To-Series Crime Drama At Epix". Deadline. Retrieved 2018-04-25.
- D'Addario, Daniel (September 9, 2019). "TV Review: 'Godfather of Harlem'". Variety. Retrieved December 5, 2019.
- Harlem Godfather: The Rap on My Husband, Ellsworth "Bumpy" Johnson - by Mayme Hatcher Johnson
- Bumpy Johnson at Find a Grave
- Infinite MagaZine on YouTube on YouTube Documentary
- John Howard Johnson. Fact not fiction in Harlem (1980 ed.). Northern Type Printing, Inc. p. 119. ASIN B00072X07G.
- Mayme Hatcher Johnson (2008). Harlem Godfather: The Rap on my Husband, Ellsworth "Bumpy" Johnson (when ed.). Oshun Publishing Company, Inc.; First edition (February 29, 2008). p. 248. ISBN 978-0-9676028-3-7.