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Bumpy Johnson

Bumpy Johnson

Ellsworth Raymond "Bumpy" Johnson (October 31, 1905 – July 7, 1968) was an American mob boss and bookmaker in New York City's Harlem neighborhood. The main Harlem associate of Charles "Lucky" Luciano and what would become later known as the Genovese crime family, Johnson's criminal career has inspired films and television.

Bumpy Johnson
Ellsworth Raymond Johnson

(1905-10-31)October 31, 1905
Charleston, South Carolina, U.S.
DiedJuly 7, 1968(1968-07-07)(aged 62)
New York City, U.S.
Resting placeWoodlawn Cemetery (Bronx, New York)
OccupationCrime Boss, Gangster, Bootlegger, Smuggler, Bookmaker, Numbers Runner, Pimp, Gambler, Extortionist, Racketeer
Known forMob Boss of Harlem
Spouse(s)Mayme Hatcher
Parent(s)Margaret Moultrie and William Johnson
Criminal chargeNarcotics-related offenses
Penalty12 years, 15 years

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]

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 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.[7] He was released in 1963. In his life, Johnson was arrested more than 40 times and eventually 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.[8]


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] Friend Frank Lucas was there, 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.


  • In the 1971 film Shaft, Moses Gunn portrays "Bumpy Jonas", a character based upon Johnson.[9]

  • 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.[10]

  • In the 1979 film Escape from Alcatraz, Paul Benjamin plays a character based on Bumpy Johnson, "English".[11][12]

  • In the 1984 film The Cotton Club, Laurence Fishburne plays a character based on Bumpy Johnson, "Bumpy Rhodes".[13][9]

  • In the 1997 film Hoodlum, Johnson is again portrayed by Fishburne.[13][9]

  • 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.[9]


  • 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.[14]

  • 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 has granted a straight-to-series order to crime drama Godfather of Harlem. Forest Whitaker is set to play Johnson. The series was created by Chris Brancato and Paul Eckstein, who are producing with ABC Signature Studios.[15]


  • He is mentioned in the lyrics of Mac Dre's 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, which was followed by The Bumpy Johnson Album.


  • 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").[16][17]


Citation Link//www.worldcat.org/oclc/247980358Tyler, 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.
Sep 29, 2019, 5:03 AM
Citation Linkopenlibrary.orgHarlem Godfather: The Rap on My Husband, Ellsworth "Bumpy" Johnson
Sep 29, 2019, 5:03 AM
Citation Linkwww.crimelibrary.com"Queenie and Bumpy". crimelibrary. 2007. Archived from the original on 2008-04-17. Retrieved 2008-04-09.
Sep 29, 2019, 5:03 AM
Citation Linkwww.google.com"People". Jet. 1952. Retrieved March 27, 2011.
Sep 29, 2019, 5:03 AM
Citation Linkfindarticles.comEditors (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.
Sep 29, 2019, 5:03 AM
Citation Linkportal.issn.org"Crime". Jet. Johnson Publishing Company. 5 (9): 49. January 7, 1954. ISSN 0021-5996. Retrieved March 27, 2011.
Sep 29, 2019, 5:03 AM
Citation Linkweb.archive.org[1] Archived December 13, 2010, at the Wayback Machine
Sep 29, 2019, 5:03 AM
Citation Linkwww.amazon.comJohn Howard Johnson (1980). Fact not fiction in Harlem. Northern Type Printing, Inc. p. 119. ASIN B00072X07G.p.103+
Sep 29, 2019, 5:03 AM
Citation Linkwww.theguardian.comQueenan, Joe (17 November 2007). "Joe Queenan on 'Bumpy' Johnson, the most feared criminal in 1930s Harlem". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 5 April 2018.
Sep 29, 2019, 5:03 AM
Citation Linkwww.gamblingsites.org"Bumpy Johnson Profile - Famous Bookmaker and Mob Boss from New York City". www.gamblingsites.org.
Sep 29, 2019, 5:03 AM
Citation Linkwww.nydailynews.comDenene 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.
Sep 29, 2019, 5:03 AM
Citation Linkdayshistory.wordpress.com"Ellsworth Raymond 'Bumpy' Johnson - On this day..." dayshistory.wordpress.com. Retrieved 5 April 2018.
Sep 29, 2019, 5:03 AM
Citation Linkwww.washingtonpost.comHunter, Stephen (27 August 1997). "'HOODLUM' AIMS HIGH IF NOT ALWAYS TRUE". The Washington Post. Retrieved 5 April 2018.
Sep 29, 2019, 5:03 AM
Citation Linkunsolved.com"Alcatraz Escape - Unsolved Mysteries". Retrieved 5 April 2018.
Sep 29, 2019, 5:03 AM
Citation Linkdeadline.comPetski, Denise. "Forest Whitaker To Topline Straight-To-Series Crime Drama At Epix". Deadline. Retrieved 2018-04-25.
Sep 29, 2019, 5:03 AM
Citation Linkwww.newsarama.com"Going Old School: Frank Tieri on 'Punisher Noir'". Retrieved 5 April 2018.
Sep 29, 2019, 5:03 AM
Citation Linkmarvel.wikia.com"Ellsworth Johnson (Earth-90214) from Punisher Noir Vol 1 2 001.jpg". Retrieved 5 April 2018.
Sep 29, 2019, 5:03 AM
Citation Linkwww.amazon.comHarlem Godfather: The Rap on My Husband, Ellsworth "Bumpy" Johnson - by Mayme Hatcher Johnson
Sep 29, 2019, 5:03 AM
Citation Linkwww.findagrave.comBumpy Johnson
Sep 29, 2019, 5:03 AM
Citation Linkwww.youtube.comHarlem Godfather Bumpy Johnson pt.1
Sep 29, 2019, 5:03 AM