Harlem, New York – November 2007 – At age 93, Mayme Johnson has done a lot of living. But as the widow of Ellsworth “Bumpy” Johnson, the original American gangster, who ruled Harlem in the early 20th century, Mayme Johnson has done more living than most! In “Harlem Godfather: The Rap on My Husband, Ellsworth “Bumpy” Johnson,” (www.HarlemGodfather.com) released by Oshun Publishing Company, Johnson sets the record straight once and for all. Coauthored with Essence Magazine bestselling author, Karen E. Quinones Miller, the novel is not only her an account of her life married to the Black mafia boss, but also a vivid recollection of Harlem in its heyday.
With the release of the blockbuster film, “American Gangster,” Johnson’s voice takes on new meaning. Her husband, Bumpy Johnson was an intrical character in the movie. Frank Lucas, the dope-dealer portrayed by Denzel Washington, says Bumpy Johnson was his mentor, teaching him everything he knew. He goes on to state that he was Bumpy’s second-in-command, and that Bumpy died in his arms in 1968.
Johnson hopes to set the record straight about Lucas. “Frank wasn’t nothing but a flunky, and one that Bumpy never did really trust,” says Johnson. “Bumpy would let Frank drive him around, but you’d better believe that he was never in any important meetings or anything. He would say, you can trust a thief quicker than a liar, because a thief steals money because he needs money, but a liar lies for the hell of it!”
Johnson says she was furious when she first found out that Lucas told a magazine writer that Bumpy died in his arms. Lucas, she says, was nowhere around the night that Bumpy died from a heart attack while dining at the famous Wells Restaurant on Seventh Avenue in Harlem. She says Lucas probably thought he could get away with the lie because he figured everyone who was around Bumpy at the time is now dead.
“Junie Byrd’s gone, Nat Pettigrew’s gone, Sonny Chance is gone, and Finley Hoskin’s gone. Frank would never have said any garbage like that if one of them were alive because he’d know they’d come after him,” Johnson says. “I bet he thought I was gone, too, but I’m not. I’m 93, and I don’t have Alzheimer’s or dementia, and I’m not senile. Frank Lucas is a damn liar and I want the world to know it.”
Johnson says she thinks it’s a shame that Lucas was able to fool Hollywood into believing that he’s a bigger shot than he really is, and points out that if he lied about his relationship with Bumpy there’s no telling what else he may have lied about in the movie. States Johnson, as far as she’s concerned everything in the movie is now suspect.
“That’s why I’m writing this book after all this time,” Johnson explains, adding that while there have been legends, myths, and rumors flying around about Bumpy for decades, she’s never spoken out — even when the movie Hoodlum was released in 1997 and contained all kinds of factual errors about the man she loved – because she never thought the lies were malicious. “They just didn’t know better,” Mayme says. “But this . . . well, Frank does know better. These aren’t errors, these are lies.”
“This book is so important to me,” cites co-author Miller. “Mrs. Johnson is a living treasure. Her memory is so sharp it’s absolutely astounding. At 93, it is crucial that her story finally be told. She is the missing link to the urban legend that is Bumpy Johnson.”
Originally from Harlem, Miller met Bumpy when she was a child and credits him for making her realize the the value of education. Miller is the Essence bestselling author of Satin Doll, I’m Telling, Using What You Got, Ida B., (nominated for an NAACP Image Award for Literary Fiction), and Satin Nights. Her new novel, Passin’, will be released by Warner Books in Winter 2008. Miller is also a former journalist and was a staff reporter for The Philadelphia Inquirer for nine years, and has worked as a correspondent for People Magazine.
(Mayme Johnson has since passed since this interview in 2007. She was laid to rest of May 2009, at the age of 94)
Written By Karen E. Quinones, Journalist