by Mayme Johnson and Karen E. Quinones Miller
Publisher: Oshun Publishing Company, Inc.; First edition (February 1, 2008)
Reviewed by Idrissa Uqdah
Bumpy's Widow Tells Her Story
Harlem Godfather: The Rap on my Husband, Ellsworth ’Bumpy’ Johnson has been a long time coming on the heels of the popular movie, American Gangster. It is the real story of the infamous African American Harlem Godfather, ’Bumpy,’ told by Mayme Johnson, his 93-year-old widow. Refuting many of Frank Lucas' stories in the Gangster movie, Mrs. Johnson sets the record straight about the man she unconditionally loved and stood by as long as he lived.
Told in memoir genre, Mayme Johnson's voice sings throughout the book and grabs your attention. Readers will enjoy’and some will remember’her harking back to Harlem's hey day. From the 1930s to the late 1960s, Bumpy was the King of the Harlem underworld. Many great entertainers including Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday, Lena Horne, Joe Louis, Sidney Poitier, Ethel Waters, and Bill ’Bojangles' Robinson befriended the Johnsons. Seemingly without hesitation, Mayme Johnson named many infamous, organized crime figures such as Lucky Luciano and Dutch Shultz. She left no doubt that she knew these individuals and their relationships with ’Bumpy.’ Legendary Harlem nightclub owners and restaurateurs who entertained Bumpy and his army of friends in their establishments are part of history in the old community.
It was clear that Bumpy Johnson was Harlem's very own Godfather; that he cared about his community, his family and his friends. People looked up to Bumpy and looked past his transgressions because he was a man who took care of his own. He ’protected’ Harlem business owners from the white mob and joined in with those in street life to keep the money in Harlem. He was loyal to his friends and those whom he did business with. Bumpy conducted himself like a gentleman but when crossed his temper would get the best of him, and the traitor. Mrs. Johnson said he gave away huge sums of money over the years to the poor in the community and admonished young people to stay in school and get an education so that they could live a life unlike his own.
Writers, readers, and friends had carved out a place for this non-fiction book by pre-ordering copies to insure its publication in Mayme Johnson's lifetime. You will find those names listed and thanked in the book. Congratulations to Karen E Quinones Miller for her work and dedication to this project.
I was quite fascinated with Mrs. Johnson's story. If you have an interest in Harlem's history from the 1930s to the 1960s, you will be fascinated with it as well.