Al Capone and John Gotti are mobsters whose names are forever etched in the collective memory. The name of Bumpy Johnson, however, almost faded into obscurity. Until recently.
Enter hit TV show, The Godfather of Harlem where award-winning Forest Whitaker takes on the complex lead role of Johnson, Harlem's top mobster. With Whitaker at the helm, it is no wonder the show has been critically acclaimed locally and internationally, despite it being Whitaker's first foray on the small screen. His acting, as always, remains top-notch.
We've rounded up five facts about the real-life Johnson, things you may not have known,
- He was born on October 31, 1906 and died of natural causes in 1968, in contrast to many other gangsters who succumbed to a hail of bullets.
- Johnson's full name was Ellsworth Raymond Johnson but he was quickly called Bumpy when he was young because of a large bump he had on his forehead, according to the Black Past website. And, well, the name stuck.
- While Johnson had a reputation of being brutal, he also loved to read and particularly enjoyed philosophy. He also had a panache for chess, according to Time magazine.
- During the 1930s, Johnson made a name for himself when he started for working the then Harlem mob boss, Stephanie St. Claire, and quickly moved up her ranks to become the main enforcer.
- By 1952, he was arrested and sentenced to 15 years in Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary. "In 1963, Johnson returned home to Harlem and was greeted by a parade. Picking up where he left off, he once again reigned until his death," reads Time magazine.
If you missed the recently aired 10-part series on 1Magic, watch The Godfather of Harlem on Showmax.