The Toughest Man in New York!

Detective Remo Franceschini.

  Elsworth Raymond JohnsonThe controversial and widely respected criminal figure known as the Harlem Godfather. Johnson's wasted much of his life pursuing the ever elusive good life. Instead of fame he found infamy, in place of fortune he earned a sullied reputation and criminal record. Johnson spent much of his adult life in and out of prison. On two seperate occasions Johnson's illicit actions landed him in prison, resulting in the loss of 10 years from his life.

 Researching a figure such as Bumpy, provides special challenges as fact and fiction intersect leaving a jumbled mess of information to be sifted through. Once questionable "and oftend sighted," source of information on Bumpy's early career comes from the lucid tales of Helen Lawrenson as told in her 1972 memoir entitled Stranger At The Party. The pair met at the Alhambra Bar & Grill on Seventh Avenue at 126 Street in 1935 and began an off and on affair which spanned the better part of a decade. During the course of their affair, Lawrenson claimed to have witnessed first hand some of the exploits which made Bumpy Johnson the feared, respected and vicious Harlem character.

 Physically small in stature and slight of build, Johnson combined reckless courage with a cold and calculating manner which unnerved his opposition. Admittedly Bumpy made his money through a variety of rackets which included prostitution, loansharking, extortion, murder and the use of strongarm tactics honed in the back alleys of Harlem. The detectives who dogged his steps for decades claimed narcotics was a major source of his income. There is no reason to believe Johnson would have excluded such a profitable racket from his extensive criminal resume though it should be noted Bumpy strongly denied peddling narcotics despite rumors and one federal conviction which state otherwise. Johnson was fond of fine tailored clothing, Johnson dressed immaculately in conservative style which belied the racketeer fashion of his day.

 Sports "boxing inparticular," was another passion of Bumpys. Johnson maintained the age old Harlem tradition of endearing himself to popular sporting figures and counted boxing legend Sugar Ray Robinson as a close confidant. Robinson was so fond of Johnson that he visited Johnson on at least two occassion while Bumpy served time. Once Robinson pulled his famous pink cadillac up in front of the Federal Prison at Leavenworth for a quick chat with his old pal while on yet another occassion guards were shocked to find the decorated champion sitting in the visiting room on Alcatraz Island. The extent of the relationship between Robinson and Johnson is unknown to the author other than the acknowledgement of such a relationship and the aforementioned visits documented in federal visiting logs and the Robinson biography entitled Pound for Pound.

 Johnson alledgedly spent his time organizing a criminal organization which spanned Harlem, Brooklyn, Manhatten, Baltimore and Washington D.C. The ties with racketeers "black and Italian," paid dividends as respect for Johnson's criminal expertise spanned ethnic barriers. While serving a 15 year narcotics sentence, Bumpy earned the respect of his fellow inmates running the entire black inmate population at Alcatraz. Upon his release Johnson was welcomed home in the fashion befitting a character in a Mario Puzzo story. From east Harlem came a gift of $20,000 sent by Genovese gambling power Anthony Salerno. Johnson received another $17,000 from Spanish Marquez the reigning numbers king of the era. Johnson would enter into a financial arrangement with Spanish Raymond's brother Chili in a narcotics distribution ring which imported heroin and cocaine directly from south America.

 From behind the front of Palmetto Chemical company, Johnson aimed to spend his twilight years far removed from the criminal activity he had spent a life time engaged in. According to Detective Remo Franceschini, Johnson kept a routine of business meetings at Palmetto Chemical from 8 AM to 10 then it was on to the race track. Johnson would spend a good part of his day at the track before returning to Palmetto about 4 PM. From 4 PM until shortly before 8 PM Johnson would end the days business before returning home and retiring for the evening by 8 PM. The day would begin anew for Harlems Godfather with a 3 AM trip around the club district. With such a busy schedule it is a wonder that Johnson would have time to play chess "a game at which he has been called a master," and compose poetry good enough to be published.

 Part of the legacy and lore of Elsworth Raymond Johnson is his defiance in living down to the expectations or bowing to the wishes of white supremacy. How much of the Johnson legend is true may never fully be known but what is quite clear is Johnson belongs in a class all his own.

Bumpy Johnson