15 Gangsta Things About Bumpy Johnson, The Real Godfather of Harlem


Photo:  Courtesy of Epix
Photo: Courtesy of Epix

Godfather of Harlem is an American crime drama that chronicles the true story of New York City crime boss Bumpy Johnson. Played by Academy Award-winning actor Forest Whitaker, fans are transported into the 1960s and learn about Johnson’s rise as a crime boss.

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Before you catch up on the latest season, here are some facts about the real-life Bumpy.

Born in South Carolina

Photo:  Found Image Holdings/Corbis (Getty Images)
Photo: Found Image Holdings/Corbis (Getty Images)

Although he’s known as the “Godfather of Harlem” Ellsworth Raymond Johnson was born in Charleston, South Carolina on Oct. 31 in 1905.


Screenshot:  YouTube
Screenshot: YouTube

Johnson’s nickname, “Bumpy” came from the bump that appeared on the back of his head.

Move to Harlem

Godfather of Harlem Season 3 Trailer

Bumpy did not move to Harlem until 1919 when he was sent to live with his older sister Mabel.

Relationship with Malcolm X

Photo:  Courtesy of Epix
Photo: Courtesy of Epix

The two were friends since the 1940s, while Malcolm X, previously known as Malcolm Little, was a street hustler. Bumpy would protect Malcolm after he split with the Nation of Islam.


Photo:  Michael Ochs Archives (Getty Images)
Photo: Michael Ochs Archives (Getty Images)

Known as a fashionable man and smart, Bumpy had friendships with popular celebrities such as singer Billie Holiday and superstar boxer Sugar Ray Robinson.

Gentlemanly demeanor

Photo:  Courtesy of Epix
Photo: Courtesy of Epix

Despite being involved in crime, Bumpy was known to always be willing to help out less fortunate members of the community.


Photo:  Courtesy of Epix
Photo: Courtesy of Epix

Bumpy would often lecture younger children in the neighborhood about taking their studies seriously instead of turning to a life of crime.

Stephanie St. Claire

Photo:  Bettman (Getty Images)
Photo: Bettman (Getty Images)

Bumpy became an associate of Madame Stephanie St. Clair, a brilliant “numbers” queen during the early 1930s, and started a war against mob boss Dutch Shultz, which resulted in dozens of murders and kidnappings.


Screenshot:  Jet
Screenshot: Jet

Bumpy was so infamous for his criminal behavior that his activities would be reported in the popular black magazine, Jet.


Photo:  PhotoQuest (Getty Images)
Photo: PhotoQuest (Getty Images)

In 1952, Bumpy was selected to 15 years in prison for drug conspiracy. He spent the majority of his sentence at the infamous Alcatraz prison in San Francisco Bay.


Photo:  Courtesy of Epix
Photo: Courtesy of Epix

After serving his time in Alcatraz, Bumpy was met with a parade when he returned to Harlem after being released on parole in 1963. The godfather was back home.


Screenshot:  YouTube
Screenshot: YouTube

Bumpy was also stubborn. After he was arrested in December 1965, he staged a sit-down demonstration at a local police station and refused to leave. He was eventually charged with “refusal to leave a police station” and was later released.

Criminal history

Godfather Of Harlem - Bumpy Johnson Was Arrested By Corrupt Police - HD Scene

Throughout his tenure as a crime boss, Bumpy was arrested more than 40 times and was sent to prison on two separate occasions.


Screenshot:  www.findagrave.com
Screenshot: www.findagrave.com

Although many criminal bosses of the time died from a hail of bullets, Bumpy died of congestive heart failure on July 7, 1968, at the age of 62 while having breakfast.

Wife’s long life

Screenshot:  Harlem World
Screenshot: Harlem World

Bumpy died in 1968, but his wife, Mayme Hatcher, whom he married in October 1998, lived until May 2009. A year before her death, she wrote a book titled Harlen Godfather: The Rap on My Husband, Ellsworth “Bumpy” Johnson, which inspired the story for Godfather of Harlem.

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