Tag Archives: Harlem

Did You Know: Harlem Saved A King

2There was a fateful day in September 1958 that nearly caused us to lose a King. Dr. King was an emerging activist who was hosting a book signing for his book, “Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story” at Blumstein’s Department Store in Harlem, New York. On that day Dr. Martin Luther King was almost taken from us. Imagine what our lives and the world would be like today – if he had not survived the attack. Not many people know the name Izola Curry or that Dr. King barely escaped death that day.

While signing books, Dr. King was approached by a 42-year-old black woman, Izola Ware Curry, who asked if he was really Martin Luther King Jr. After responding yes, witnesses say Curry promptly took a letter opener out of her purse, closed her eyes and plunged it into Dr. King’s chest.

With the help of local police officers, first responders and the Harlem Hospital surgical team, Dr. King fortunately survived the stabbing, but doctors said because the opener grazed the surface of his aorta, if she had stabbed harder or if someone removed the object improperly, he probably would have drowned in his own blood.

“If I had sneezed, I wouldn’t have had a chance later that year, in August, to try to tell America about a dream that I had had. If I had sneezed, I wouldn’t have been down in Selma, Alabama to see the great movement there,” Dr. King famously said ten years after the incident in his last speech, ”I’ve Been to the Mountaintop.”

While local media reported Dr. King’s attempted assassination in the following weeks, the story did not become national news because he was not a prominent public figure at the time.

But mystery remains surrounding attacker Izola Curry. Who was she? What happened to her? And why did this woman attempt to kill one of the greatest civil rights leaders?

Two filmmakers claim that their upcoming documentary, When Harlem Saved A Kingwill answer all of these questions and also shed light into Curry’s life, who has remained, as of now, virtually unknown to the public.

“Everybody is fascinated with this story about Dr. Martin Luther King. Everything you hear about him is from history books, but this puts a different spin on Dr. Martin Luther King’s rise to fame and it’s absolutely true,” says executive producer Wayne Davis in an interview with theGrio.

While the mystery behind Curry is alluring to historians and the public alike, both the director, Al Cohen, and Davis, say their film will also pay homage to the “unsung heroes” from the Harlem community who helped save Dr. King’s life.

“Harlem was never given a badge of honor as it relates assisting in the Civil Rights Movement. This particular project that we’re doing helps bring that shade to the Harlem community. We can stand up tall and realize that we had a very major impact in the Civil Rights Movement,” said director Al Cohen in the interview.

The two Harlem natives have spent the past several years researching and tracking down firsthand sources and information to figure out what happened to Curry and community members who played a role in saving Dr. King.

“The objective of When Harlem Saved a King is to unravel mysteries, expose secrets and misconceptions; and answer unanswered questions. The pieces of this untold story will be woven into a compelling 60 minutes through the creative integration of eye-opening interviews [with firsthand witnesses],” according to the documentary’s website.

After the stabbing incident, Curry was taken into custody and was found to be incompetent to stand trial for assault charges. She was later diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and was committed to the Matteawan State Hospital for the criminally insane according to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute.

Although the media portrayed Curry as a deranged woman with no real motive to kill Dr. King, both Cohen and Davis say that they have compelling evidence that Curry may have been part of a larger conspiracy to thwart the impending Civil Rights Movement.

“I think people will find an ironic twist about [the story]. Many said she was deranged woman, but it could possibly something bigger than that, a bigger conspiracy,” says Cohen. “It’s not just a crazy woman who got in an argument against [Dr. King] and just wanted to defend herself. It was more calculated than that.”

“For a deranged woman who acted solo, why was a lot of money in the south raised for her defense?” adds Davis. “That’s all I want to say. You will find out in the documentary what happened to her.”

Additionally, there are no records indicating Curry died at the mental institution and if she is still alive, she would be 96 years old today. Cohen and Davis say that the documentary will be groundbreaking because it will reveal what happened to Curry and if they were able to locate her.

“Nobody was ever able to get to [Izola Curry]. We have no information or any interviews or any leads about this woman, [except] the things we have found,” explains Cohen. “There is nobody out there that anybody has spoken to her outside of what we have found.”

The two filmmakers promoted their documentary throughout Black History Month to shed light onto a part of African-American history that has almost been forgotten. Just last week, the two hosted a screening of the trailer at Harlem Hospital.

“If Dr. King had died, would we be here talking with you today? We don’t know!” says Davis. “Maybe [the Civil Rights Movement] wouldn’t have progressed as soon as it did. Maybe it wouldn’t have progressed at all.”

The two filmmakers say that they are currently finishing the film’s production and they hope to premiere the documentary at the end of July.

I think this is a worthwhile project and one we should support. Therefore, I am reposting the article originally posted on theGrio to lend my support of this historical documentary. And that’s my Thought Provoking Perspective…

Webpage: When Harlem Saved A King


Trump Supporters Call For A Revolt: Here’s The Truth About Race Riots

007_1000I wrote this article some time ago after there were several situations of unrest on the streets of America. With Trump’s latest message to his supporter to create unrests let me remind you that a “riots is the language of the unheard”. This harkens back to the lawless lynchings of black people. Let’s be clear that the most deadly riots were done by white folk and most were done when they claimed the rules of white supremacy were, in their minds, violated. Black folk have had every reason to riot because when white folk riot it is legal!

Over the centuries what they would call riots were merely unrests because of the killing of an unarmed black person at the hands of the police. Now the truth is black people have only had what would be called only a few riots.

For example, most of the black riots took place in California with the worse being the Watt’s Riots of 1965; a horrible event but like any of the few riots black people started was predicated on some kind of white provocation. So let me remind you that the culture of race relations in America is one sided, and history tells us that most, if not all, race riots were not perpetrated by black people. The culture of violence by the so-called real Americans upon what they call “others” have been at the hands of white people in America.

You often hear how savage black people are when an incident occurs, and blacks take to the streets. They will tell you that these black destroy their own communities. For the record, that is the biggest lie since they portrayed Jesus as a white man. The worst riots and, in fact, most riots were done by white racists. Today it sounds like Trump is suggest a white uprising!

First, the people living in the inner city or urban areas do not own that which is burned or damaged. Rather, they are owned by those who profit or prey upon them. Before the 1960s, rioting or race riots as they were called consisted of whites burning down and destroying black communities simply because they didn’t want them there. Let’s go back further, the Native America people were nearly eliminated at the hands of such violence as their lands were stolen by germ warfare and whole tribes slaughtered. Later to be glamorized in “Cowboy and Indian” epics.

To be clear, the brutal and often deadly attacks upon black people was not a Southern phenomenon. These violent acts occurred mostly in major northern, western and Midwestern cities, where the population of black citizens grew tremendously due to the great migration. Blacks fled from the abusive and harsh Jim Crow south to seek refuge from the rigid Jim Crow era laws to find jobs and homes. The competition was fierce, thousands and thousands of blacks flooded the cities resulting in what became known as “white flight”. White people were angry that blacks were taking jobs they felt should have been theirs and building their own communities. Notice how this sounds like Trump’s code language!

Not only was housing discrimination prevalent but they passed laws and created sundown towns, which meant “Nigger” don’t be caught in white communities after dark or you will be lynched. Even white soldiers that have been stationed away from home were furious when they came back to this “change”. An often overlooked hazard, black soldiers who thought they were fighting for freedom would return home to situations worse than that they face on the combat fields.

So for those who don’t know this is how race riots started. Whites were not too happy about desegregation in the cities. Any incident, regardless of how mundane or minor, whites would assert what they viewed as their God-given right to take the law into their own hands. Using vigilante justice to attack destroyed and burned down black populated areas through mob violence and acts of terror that often resulted in countless deaths. It is important to clearly understand that a sense of entitlement was the motivation.

When the Jim Crow laws and subliminal attempts to keep their cities and communities segregated failed, riots often occurred. Here are ONLY just a few examples of the major race riots that took place in America:

1921: May 30 – June 1. Tulsa, OK. Black Wall Street Massacre
1922: May 6, June 9 Kirven, Texas
1923: January 1. Rosewood, FL Rosewood Massacre
1930: October 12-15 Sainte Genevieve, MO
1931: March Scottsboro, AL
1935: March 19 Harlem, NY Harlem Riot of 1935
1943: May Mobile, AL
1943: June Los Angeles, CA Zoot Suit Riot
1943: June 15-16 Beaumont, TX Beaumont Race Riot of 1943
1943: June 20 Detroit, MI Detroit Race Riot
1943:August 1 Harlem,NY Harlem Riot of 1943
1949: August-September Peekskill, NY
1951: July 11-12 Cicero County, IL Cicero Race Riot
1958: Maxton, NC Battle of Hayes Pond
1959: February Pearl River County, MS
1960: April Biloxi Beach, MS
1962: October Oxford, MS Uni of Mississippi
1963: September 30. Oxford, MS Ole Miss Riot
1963: July 11 Cambridge, MD Cambridge riot of 1963
1963: May 13 Birmingham, AL Bombings
1964: July Brooklyn, NY
1964: July 18 Harlem, NY Harlem Riot of 1964
1964: July 24-26 Rochester, NY Rochester riot
1964: August Jersey City, NJ
1964: August Paterson, NJ
1964: August Elizabeth, NJ
1964: August Chicago, IL
1964: August 28 Philadelphia, PA Philadelphia 1964 race riot
1965: March 7 Selma, AL Bloody Sunday
1965: July Springfield, MA
1965: August 11-17 Los Angeles, CA Watts Riot

I would argue that there were only two riots that can be credited to black people. When they killed Dr. King and the Rodney King riots in LA or those during what has been called the long hot summers of the 1960s. So let’s correct the narrative, almost all of the so-called race riots, including the Civil War, were initiated and perpetrated by the so-called Real Americans – white people! Anytime you hear someone criticizing black people for rioting, share this info with them.

Finally, the whole history of America is one of brutal aggression and oppression. Therefore, with the rise of police killings at the hands of the state is just a continuation of the brutal nature of a people who without a conscience. Frankly, white folk should thank their lucky stars that black America’s have not taken more brutal action concerning the brutal oppression they have been subjected to for 400 years!!! And that’s my thought provoking perspective…

JUST A SEASON


Madame Queen: Lady Gangster

There are many stories told throughout time and others lost to history. This is the true story of Madame Stephanie St Clair, the Queen Of Harlem; the woman who saved Harlem from the mob. Some called this amazing woman a Harlem Hero I say the greatest story never known!


Charm City: Upton The Jewel of the Chesapeake

There have been many segregated cities created by white folk thanks to the system of white supremacy. I’ve told the story of “Black Wall Street”, Black Bottom, Harlem and, in fact, the many other such places all over America. But did you know there was a place called Upton in Baltimore, Maryland that hosted one of the most affluent African American neighborhoods in the United States at the turn of the twentieth century. For the “Colored folk”, it was known as the “Jewel of the Chesapeake”.

Today, B-more is called “Charm City” which should have been the name given to this splendid community back in the day. Rather, today Baltimore is known for its despair and of course the murder of Freddie Gray who the system say killed himself while in police custody and the unrest that ensued.

In Upton, Pennsylvania Avenue was the main drag connecting all African American life in the city and beyond. To the south and west of Upton lay the poor and working class African American neighborhoods of “The Bottom”; to its east were the German American and Jewish American neighborhoods. Upton is about a fifteen minute walk from Downtown Baltimore, but blacks of that era had no need to go downtown, for obvious reasons. Because of segregation they were not allowed to patronize or enter through the front door of the white establishments unless they were working.

Baltimore is best known for crabs, crab cakes, delicious seafood, and, of course, a good time, but let’s never forget its rich history. Upton was home to the most educated African Americans, property owners, and professionals to include doctors, lawyers, retailers who served the middle class and upscale clientele. On the Avenue, as it was called, was home to a premiere shopping strip for black Baltimoreans, inspiring comparisons to Lenox Avenue in Harlem. Upton had it all jazz clubs, dance halls, theaters, as well as other public and private institutions for the black community.

Upton was also the staging ground for much of the local and national civil rights initiatives. It was a crossroad for many great African Americans who fought for equality and improving conditions for communities suffering from the ridged “separate but equal laws” and cruel amoral agendas. People like the great Frederick Douglass, Justice Thurgood Marshall, Booker T. Washington, W.E.B. Du Bois, Marcus Garvey all visited Upton and organized in its local churches. The Baltimore chapter of the NAACP was based in Upton as well as the New Negro Alliance, who rallied for justice from this proud community.

In the mid-20th century, Upton’s population swelled due to the popularity of the neighborhood and the pressures of segregation that kept African Americans confined to certain areas. Single family homes were subdivided into small apartments, and Pennsylvania Avenue’s sidewalks were crowded on Saturday nights, as loud music and heavy drinking became popular vices on the strip. There were several notable venues hosting great entertainment like the New Albert Hall, the Savoy and the Strands that drew many performers and partygoers.

But it was the Douglass Theater, renamed The Royal Theater, at Pennsylvania and Lafayette, that became famous and a mainstay on the Chitlin Circuit on par with the legendary Apollo Theater. Cab Calloway grew up in Upton and Eubie Blake performed his debut in a club on Pennsylvania Avenue. Stars such as Ethel Water, Pearl Bailey, Louis Armstrong, Fats Waller, James Brown, Stevie Wonder and the Temptations all performed at the Royal. It was like the Apollo in the sense that you had to play the Royal to get your chops.

Churches were also a huge part of this community providing safe havens for its people. Since the 18th Century, African American churches have nurtured their souls, feed the hungry, clothed and housed the poor but their role was far more important. The church community was a launch pad for activism and served as a communication networks, which was the backbone of the community. The church community fought for civil rights, supported business initiatives, and job placement. From the beginning, going back beyond the Underground Railroad, Baltimore’s churches were a place of empowerment through worship and served as incubators for organizing and planning regardless of denomination or faith.

Baltimore produced prominent businessmen such as Raymond Haysbert, who was the owner and founder of the famed Parks Sausage Company that became the first black-owned company to go public in 1969. The Parks Sausage Company was a legend in Baltimore, and you could hear its slogan “more Parks Sausages mom” everywhere. After the company, experienced financial difficulties two former National Football League Hall of Famers Lydell Mitchell and Franco Harris partnered to come to its rescue maintaining the company’s black-owned legacy. James Brown, the “Godfather of Soul”, was also a prominent businessman in the city owning WEBB, a local radio station, and several other businesses.

Upton also produced its share of colorful characters known as “hustlers” who were legendary. One of the most famous was “Little Willie” Adams. Mr. Adams or “Little Willie”, as he was known, opened a shoeshine stand on the Avenue when he was 18. Sources say he was an ambitious young hustler with dreams of being his own man. One day a flamboyant numbers man got in his chair; he popped his rag like a firecracker while talking jive making him laugh.

He convinced the numbers man that he too was a businessman, solid and dependable, and he wanted in on the numbers game. The hustlers slapped palms, and Little Willie started at the bottom the next day as a runner. By age 34, the young dapper Adams was already a living legend and the King of B-more. Little Willie was known to say, after he became the numbers czar, “This was our thing started by slaves”. I’m told he would say “prayer is good but when you get up off your knees. You’ve got to hustle”.

Then there was the late Melvin Williams, who was the inspiration for the enormously popular HBO series “The Wire.” Known as “Little Melvin”, also featured the documentary “American Gangster” where he told his story, his way. Before he was old enough to shave, Little Melvin possessed a genius I.Q. of 160 but he says it’s closer to 200. Despite being a high school dropout, he can talk tax codes, interstate commerce, calculus, and physics with the best of them. Little Melvin, a legend at age 15 years old had made a few hundred grand in the gambling haunts and alleyways along glittering Pennsylvania Avenue. For three decades, Melvin ruled as the uncrowned king.

Pennsylvania Avenue is now lined with sneaker shops, dollar stores, other low-rent commercial uses, and many abandoned storefronts. The Avenue Market sells produce and holds occasional events such as jazz shows. According to the city, 60% of Upton families with children under 5 are living in poverty. The median home sale price in Upton in 2004 (not including Marble Hill) was $28,054. Many of the row houses in the neighborhood are vacant either abandoned by their property owners or owned by the city.

Yes, the ghost of what was our creation has been stained, and the Jewel of the Chesapeake has lost its luster. Unfortunately, the city of Baltimore, known as Charm City, forgot that Upton was responsible for a large part of its charm but African Americans know it lure looms large, and its legacy will never die. And that’s my thought provoking perspective…

Media Kit


Stop The War On Drugs

2I think everyone in America knows someone with a drug problem or who uses drugs; either for recreational use or the result of addiction. It has been the government’s position that the solution is to lock people up for either discretion. Mind you, this is not done for national security or the safety of the individual; it is all about “The Benjamin.” I can remember when Reagan and his cronies inserted crack into black communities and in the seventies there was no effort to stop those who made money off of the misery of black people being addicted to heroin. Places like New York’s Harlem. Now that white folk are dying of overdoses – it is a problem!

The drug war’s conception was nothing but a clever scheme to have a system where they get paid from all ends. Let’s be frank, if they wanted the drug problem to cease – they could do it, but it would cost trillions of dollars by eliminating the apparatus in place for those fighting it, who would instantly become unemployed; like judges, police lawyers, prisons, and those who work for agencies created to make money from the so-called fight on the drug war.

Let me say this off the top – not one Negro in any urban area brings a single joint, ounce, or drop of anything into America. Yet, these are the people who fill the jails and prisons, by and large, serving long sentences. It has been reported and known that the government has been involved in bringing drugs into our neighborhood or at least responsible for the protection that allowed them to plant the drugs our communities. To that point, they were caught through their involvement with Iran-Contra!

Let’s call it what is – “Retroactive Abortion”! For example, if a million black men are incarcerated, two things happen. First, the offender will usually lose their right to vote. Secondly, if you take a million incarcerated black men and each of them could have on average three children, this would eliminate, based on this count, three million black people from existence, and this means removing millions voters.

They have appointed drug czars to be the general in this war. One publicly admitted that locking people up won’t keep anyone from using drugs, but stopped short of renouncing punitive policies that have made America’s long war on drugs widely unpopular. This official said, in a post on the White House website that the government’s new drug control strategy “rejects the notion that we can arrest and incarcerate our way out of the nation’s drug problem. Instead, it builds on decades of research demonstrating that while law enforcement should always remain a vital piece to protecting public safety, addiction is a brain disorder — one that can be prevented and treated, and from which people recover.”

It’s a striking piece of rhetoric, though not a risky one, given that about three quarters of Americans say the war on drugs has been a failure. My question is; did it really take nearly a half a century to figure this out? According to the new strategy, it calls for reforms that would move the government’s drug-control efforts from the police precinct and courtroom to the treatment center. In other words, they now support “alternatives to incarceration,” like drug courts, where judges can send defendants to rehabilitation clinics instead of prison. Could this be because white people are using drugs at an alarming rate?

Of course, there are some advocates for drug policy reforms who say the efforts don’t go far enough pointing to the government’s continuing commitment to the strong-armed tactics of the drug war, like cracking down on drug smugglers in the Caribbean, working with the Colombian government to wipe out coca crops, and shutting down domestic meth labs.

In 2012, about 750,000 people were arrested for marijuana-related offenses — more than one arrest per minute, according to FBI data. Blacks are nearly four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than whites, according to a report from the American Civil Liberties Union. Government officials “completely fail to acknowledge” that replacing marijuana prohibition with a regulated system would essentially eliminate illegal pot cultivation and the report barely mentions the legalization of marijuana by voters in Colorado and Washington state. A day after Washington opened its first legal pot shops, the administration suggested legalization is a “serious challenge” and may encourage young people to smoke pot.

States have eased spending on punishing people for drug crimes in favor of treating them for addictions. Some, including Texas, have shuttered whole prisons. At the federal level, top officials have repeatedly criticized the government’s sentencing policies, and the Senate is weighing the Smarter Sentencing Act, a bipartisan bill that would lighten tough mandatory punishments for certain drug crimes. The administration commends these efforts in the new report, contending that many have “already have many met with great success.” But they continue to fill the prisons for what is viewed as minor and nonviolent offenses.

This war has been a failure! Considering the cost of one prisoner verses treatment, it is reasonable to conclude that it is time for law enforcement, courts, and doctors to collaborate with each other to treat addiction as a public health issue, not a crime. But the goal is to monetize it and make slaves of men and women. And that’s my thought provoking perspective…

 


Black History: The Original Queen Of Comedy

2I love to resurrect the ghosts of the greats, particularly when it is about someone who opened doors and made a significant impact on the African American culture. So it pleases me to bestow the honor of this writing onto a veteran of the Chitlin Circuit of African-American vaudeville. This stand-up comedian was born Loretta Mary Aiken, who was known to us as Jackie “Moms” Mabley. However, we affectionately called her “Moms” and was billed as the Funniest Woman in the World.

Moms career began at age 14 and became a teenage runaway joining the Negro troupe of Henry Bowman and Tim Moore and, in a short time, became a success. She took her stage name, Jackie Mabley, from an early boyfriend, commenting to Ebony in a 1970s interview that he’d taken so much from her; it was the least she could do to take his name. Later she became known as “Moms” because she was indeed a “Mom” to many other comedians on the circuit in the 1950s and 1960s.

She came out as a lesbian at the age of twenty-seven, becoming one of the first triple-X rated comedians on the comedy circuit. Quick-witted and quick-tongued, Mabley’s unorthodox, self-assured routines as an outspoken grandma while wearing bag lady clothes with old-fashioned print dresses and floppy hats. She was a favorite with Black female audiences, particularly when she was lampooning the psychology of men. Her career spanned five decades, although white audiences did not know of her until the early 1960s.

During the 1920s and 1930s, she appeared in androgynous clothing (as she did in the film version of “The Emperor Jones” with Paul Robeson and recorded several of her early “lesbian stand-up” routines. Mabley was one of the top women doing stand-up in her heyday, eventually recording more than 20 albums of comedy routines. She appeared in movies, on television, and in clubs.

She made her New York City debut at Connie’s Inn in Harlem. In the 1960s, she became known to a wider white audience, playing places like Carnegie Hall and making a number of mainstream TV appearances. This is to include her multiple appearances when that CBS show was number one on television in the late 1960s, which introduced her to a whole new audience. At the height of her career, she was earning $10,000 a week.

One of her regular themes was a romantic interest in handsome young men rather than old “washed-up geezers”. She was able to get away with it courtesy of her stage persona, where she appeared as a toothless, bedraggled woman in a house dress and floppy hat. She also added the occasional satirical song to her jokes like her (completely serious and melancholy) cover version of “Abraham, Martin, and John” that hit #35 on the Hot 100 on 19 July 1969. At 75 years old, Moms Mabley became the oldest living person ever to have a US Top 40 hit.

All of the modern comedians own Moms a debt of gratitude for opening doors for them, particularly, women comedians! Moms, I loved you, and the world continues to miss you. And that’s my thought provoking perspective…


Harlem Gangsters

2The rich history of Harlem could never be told in few words, that is, if one intends to come close to capturing the essence of Harlem’s grandeur. Aside from Harlem’s artistic achievements, what was most romanced was the role of its underworld, which was a huge part of the nightlife and social scene.

In the 1920’s, the Jewish and Italian Mafia played major roles in running the whites-only nightclubs and the speakeasies that catered to white audiences. While the famous mobster, Dutch Schultz, controlled all liquor production and distribution in Harlem during prohibition.

Rather than compete with the established mobs, black gangsters concentrated on the “policy racket,” also called the “Numbers game.” This was a gambling scheme similar to today’s lottery that could be played, illegally, from countless locations around Harlem. By the early 1950s, the total money at play amounted to billions of dollars and the police force had been thoroughly corrupted by bribes from numbers bosses.

When you talk about Harlem gangsters, particularly of that era, two names come to mind immediately. One of the most powerful early numbers bosses was a woman, Madame Stephanie St. Clair, a black French woman from Martinique known as Queenie or Madame Queen. A tall, abrasive and tough woman, with a seldom-seen gentle side, ran the famous New York extortion gang known as The Forty Thieves.

The Forty Thieves had a reputation for being so tough that even the white gangsters would not interfere with their illegal operations or attempt to take over their turf. She utilized her experience and talents to set up operations as a policy banker and recruited some of Harlem’s most noteworthy gangsters to support her and her growing numbers business. Within a year, she was worth more than $500,000 with more than 40 runners and ten comptrollers in her charge.

The other was the legendary Ellsworth Raymond “Bumpy” Johnson known as the Godfather of Harlem. You may recall Lawrence Fishburn played Bumpy Johnson in the movie Hoodlum. Bumpy was one of Madame Queen’s main recruits. He was a colorful character from Charleston, S.C. He had to Harlem with his parents when he was a small boy and was given the nickname, Bumpy, because of a large bump on the back of his head.

Bumpy was a dapper gangster who always made it a point to wear the latest and best clothes while flashing wads of cash wherever he went. Bumpy was a pimp, burglar and stickup man who possessed a recalcitrant attitude. He always carried a knife and gun, which he would not hesitant to use. Bumpy feared nobody and did not shy from confrontations.

He was known for barroom clashes over the slightest issue, having a short fuse and for his arrogance. He never learned to curb his temper or to bow his head to any man. It was because of his negative demeanor that he spent almost half of his life in prisons before he even reached age 30. During his interments, he became an avid reader and began writing poetry. Bumpy also proved to be an incorrigible prisoner and spent one-third of a 10-year sentence in solitary confinement. Because of his attitude, he was shuttled from prison to prison until his release in 1932.

Despite his tough-guy reputation, Bumpy Johnson had a soft side. It was common knowledge among Harlemites that he often helped many of Harlem’s poor with secret cash donations and gifts. Madame Queen liked what she saw in Bumpy and offered him a position as a henchman in her numbers racket. He accepted and quickly gained her trust. One of his first tasks was to confront the Bub Hewlett gang. It erupted into one of Harlem’s most violent and bloody gang wars. Eventually, Bumpy gained the edge and defeated Hewlett, temporarily saving the numbers game from the Mobs first takeover attempt.

The relationship between Madame Queen and Bumpy was strange and tenuous at best. Some said they had an ongoing affair – others claimed the odd couple were only business partners. Bumpy never abandoned his pimping and robbery professions both of which irritated Madame Queen, but both knew what would make the numbers game a success, so they successfully coexisted. These bosses became financial powerhouses, providing capital for loans for those who could not qualify for them from traditional financial institutions – loan sharking. They invested in legitimate businesses and real estate as a way to legitimize their profits.

The Godfather of Harlem lived until 1968, dying from a heart attack as opposed to death by the gun like most did in his business. As a testament to his success, he maintained control of the underworld for nearly forty years with some saying that nothing illegal took place in Harlem without his permission. After Bumpy’s death, the underworld became loosely organized and overcome by the drug trade with its many factions. Bumpy’s protégé, Frank Lucas, and his rival Nicky Barnes became the most dominate players in the game.

Frank Lucas operated the largest drug business in Harlem after Bumpy’s death during the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. He was particularly known for cutting out the middle man in the drug trade and buying heroin directly from sources in the Golden Triangle of Thailand. Lucas boasted that he smuggled heroin using the coffins of dead American servicemen. He controlled such large quantities that he was a supplier to the Mafia. When Frank was busted and facing life in prison, he flipped turning state’s evidence for the Fed’s causing the conviction of more than a hundred associates. However, it is important to note that most of those criminals were on the police force. His career was dramatized in the 2007 feature film American Gangster.

Leroy “Nicky” Barnes, known as Mr. Untouchable, led the notorious African-American crime organization known as “The Council” made up of seven powerful Harlem gangsters similar to the Mafia that controlled the heroin trade. Barnes was convicted in 1978 of multiple counts of RICO violations, including drug trafficking and murder, for which he was sentenced to life in prison without eligibility for parole. While in prison, Barnes became a “Rat” turning state’s evidence against his former associates in “The Council.” In exchange for his testimony, Barnes was released into the Federal Witness Protection Program.

Comparing the gangsters of the two eras; one thing is clear despite the viciousness of their chosen profession, the contemporary gangster’s careers were short lived, and all of their ill-gotten gains were lost. As a result, of the carnage distributed by these characters, the drug addiction rate in Harlem was ten times higher than the New York City average and twelve times higher than in the United States as a whole. Of the 30,000 drug addicts then estimated to live in New York City, 15,000 to 20,000 lived in Harlem. Property crime was pervasive, and the murder rate was six times higher than New York’s average.

In the 1980’s, use of crack cocaine became widespread, which produced collateral crime as addicts stole to finance their purchasing of additional drugs. Dealers fought for the right to sell in particular regions or over deals gone bad causing the murder rate to skyrocket. By the end of the crack wars in the mid 90’s, coupled with the initiation of aggressive policing crime in Harlem plummeted and a sense of normalcy returned to the once proud historic hamlet of Harlem.

Black History is our history, and our history is American History! And that’s my Thought Provoking Perspective…


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