Bumpy Johnson

Bumpy Johnson

Ellsworth "Bumpy" Johnson—narcotics—on Alcatraz 1954–1958 and 1959/1963
Born Ellsworth Raymond Johnson
(1905-10-31)October 31, 1905
Charleston, South Carolina, U.S.
Died July 7, 1968(1968-07-07) (aged 62)
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
Criminal penalty imprisonment
Criminal status deceased
Spouse(s) Mayme Hatcher
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.

Early life

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.[1] 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.[2] 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.

Criminal career

Johnson was an associate of numbers queen Madame Stephanie St. Clair.[3]

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.[2] 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,[4] an American weekly aimed at African American readers, founded in 1951 by John H. Johnson of Johnson Publishing Company in Chicago, Illinois.[5] 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.[6] 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)[7] 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.[8] 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.[9]


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.[2] 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 popular culture

In 2016, a small time dope dealer from Binghamton, New York was identified as a "person of interest" in a major narcotics sting. He used the name of "Bumpy Johnson".






  1. Tyler, Gus (1967) [1962]. 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.
  2. 1 2 3 Harlem Godfather: The Rap on My Husband, Ellsworth "Bumpy" Johnson
  3. "Queenie and Bumpy". crimelibrary. 2007. Retrieved 2008-04-09.
  4. "People". Jet. 1952. Retrieved March 27, 2011.
  5. 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.
  6. "Crime". Jet. Johnson Publishing Company. 5 (9): 49. January 7, 1954. ISSN 0021-5996. Retrieved March 27, 2011.
  7. Archived December 13, 2010, at the Wayback Machine.
  8. Riddle of the Rock: The Only Successful Escape from Alcatraz
  9. John Howard Johnson (1980). Fact not fiction in Harlem. Northern Type Printing, Inc. p. 119. ASIN B00072X07G.p.103+
  10. "American Gangster full credits on IMDB".

External links

This article is issued from Wikipedia - version of the 11/18/2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.