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|Born||Ellsworth Raymond Johnson
October 31, 1905
Charleston, South Carolina, U.S.
|Died||July 7, 1968
New York City, New York, U.S.
|Cause of death||congestive heart failure|
|Other names||Bumpy, "Bumpy" Johnson|
|Occupation||drug trafficker, bootlegger, mob boss, bookmaker, numbers runner|
|Parent(s)||Margaret Moultrie and William Johnson|
Ellsworth Raymond Johnson (October 31, 1905 – July 7, 1968) — known as "Bumpy" Johnson — was an 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.
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 Johnson grew older, his parents worried about his short temper and insolence toward whites and in 1919 he was sent to live with his older sister Mabel in Harlem.
According to a book recently published by Ellsworth's late wife Mayme Johnson entitled Harlem Godfather, Bumpy's criminal career started shortly after he met Natt Pettigrew. Afterwords they began selling newspapers, sweeping floors, shooting craps and shooting pool. In his late teens he ran into Bub Hewlett after he began charging local stores protection money. By the age of 30, Johnson had spent nearly half his life in prison for a variety of crimes. After being released from prison in 1932, Johnson 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 numbers operation to Schultz was targeted for violence. Schultz was murdered in 1935, which was arranged by Lucky Luciano and the National Crime Syndicate.
Luciano took over most of Schultz's number operations in Harlem but made a deal with Johnson which allowed the numbers bankers who had fought for their independence to remain independent as long as their operations participated in the Mafia's central gambling pool and Black operators tributes were paid. That deal made Johnson an instant hero in the eyes of many Harlemites, who were impressed that a black man could actually cut deals with the Italian Mafia.
Johnson was soon the toast of Harlem, and became friends with many Harlem luminaries such as Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, Ethel Waters, Cab Calloway, Lena Horne, Billie Holiday, and Sugar Ray Robinson. He also became the de facto 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; the two were married six months later.
By the summer of 1952, Johnson's activities were being reported in the celebrity people section of Jet, an American weekly aimed at African American readers, founded in 1951 by John H. Johnson of Johnson Publishing Company in Chicago, Illinois. That same year, Johnson 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, (Numerical Index of Former Inmates of U.S. Penitentiary, Alcatraz, 1954-63 from Records of the Bureau of Prisons (RG 129) 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 San Francisco Bay. Johnson 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 eventually served 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.
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. Childhood friend Finley Hoskins was there, and someone ran down the street to the Rhythm Club to get another childhood friend, Junie Byrd. When Byrd arrived, he 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.
In popular culture
- In the 1971 film Shaft, Moses Gunn portrayed "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 played a character based on Bumpy Johnson, "English".
- In the 1984 film The Cotton Club, Laurence Fishburne played a character based on Bumpy Johnson, "Bumpy Rhodes".
- The 1997 film Hoodlum directed by Bill Duke, portrayed the struggle between Bumpy Johnson and Dutch Schultz. Johnson is again portrayed by Laurence Fishburne (who had played a character inspired by Johnson previously in 1984's The Cotton Club), Schultz by Tim Roth, and Lucky Luciano by Andy Garcia.
- In the 2007 film American Gangster, Johnson was portrayed by Clarence Williams III as the mentor of Frank Lucas played by Denzel Washington. Williams went uncredited in this role. Williams previously appeared in the Bumpy Johnson film Hoodlum as a rival of Johnson's, in the employ of Dutch Schultz. In the film, Johnson dies in a large store in the middle of the day, rather than in a diner at night.
- 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.
- Johnson was also mentioned on a Lupe Fiasco song called "Failure".
- He is mentioned in the lyrics of a popular Mac Dre song, "Genie 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.
- Johnson is also mentioned on the song "Leaders" off the Distant Relatives album by Nas and Damian Marley.
- 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").
- 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.
- Harlem Godfather: The Rap on My Husband, Ellsworth "Bumpy" Johnson
- "Queenie and Bumpy". crimelibrary. 2007. Retrieved 2008-04-09.
- "People". Jet. 1952. Retrieved March 27, 2011.
- Editors (November 1992). "From Negro Digest to Ebony, Jet and EM - Special Issue: 50 Years of JPC - Redefining the Black Image". Ebony. Retrieved 2009-01-03.
- "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.
- Riddle of the Rock: The Only Successful Escape from Alcatraz
- John Howard Johnson (1980). Fact not fiction in Harlem. Northern Type Printing, Inc. p. 119. ASIN B00072X07G.p.103+
- "American Gangster full credits on IMDB".
- 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. Harlem Godfather: The Rap on my Husband, Ellsworth "Bumpy" Johnson (when ed.). Oshun Publishing Company, Inc.; First edition (February 29, 2008). p. 248. ISBN 0-9676028-3-1.