Breaking Down Bumpy’s Boys: NYC Black Mob Boss Of Old Surrounded Himself With Cagey Crew

Bumpy Johnson

New York City’s Black Godfather of the 1940s, 50s and 60s, Ellsworth (Bumpy) Johnson ran the rackets in Harlem for almost three decades, forging an alliance with the area’s Italian mafia, also known as the Five Families. Johnson was groomed by legendary lady crime lord, Stephanie (Madam Queen) St. Clair, Harlem’s “numbers” boss for most of the 1920s and 30s before going to prison and turning over her empire to him. A future film on St. Clair’s life and times was announced last week in partnership between HBO, Zero Gravity Management and director Tim Story (Barbershop, Fantastic Four, Ride Along, Think Like A Man).

Characters based either partially or directly on Johnson’s likeness have appeared in several movies, television shows, books and comics through the years. The 1997 film Hoodlum starring Oscar-nominee Laurence Fishburne chronicled Johnson’s rise and fall. Actress Cicely Tyson, also a one-time Oscar-nominee, portrayed St. Clair in the movie.

While the iconic Bumpy Johnson is a well-known entity in gangland circles around the country, besides maybe in the heart of Harlem, his tight-knit inner circle, a formidable crew of hustlers, pimps, gamblers and seasoned gangsters, are largely forgotten about today, barely footnotes in the annals of the storied New York underworld. Most of these men were Johnson’s longtime confidants and had lengthy and diverse arrest records. Nonetheless, Bumpy’s boys, like Bumpy himself, seamlessly integrated into Harlem high-society of the period, gaining local infamy and frequent write-ups in newspaper gossip columns and even in the nationally-distributed Jet Magazine.


Jacob (Nat) Pettigrew – Bumpy’s best friend and right-hand man, Pettigrew was the crew’s top narcotics lieutenant.

Finlay (The Sly Fox) Hoskins – Bumpy’s No. 1 advisor, Hoskins was a notorious playboy, pool hustler, bookie and policy boss, overseeing all of Johnson’s numbers houses.

James (Alabama Black) Dellroy – Bumpy’s main enforcer early on in his reign, Dellroy opened a popular Harlem soul food joint called Country’s Place. The “Illinois” character in Hoodlum (played for comic relief by actor Chi McBride) was based loosely on Dellroy.

William (Bub) Hewlett — Once a rival who worked for Jewish gangster Dutch Schultz, the garish and imposing 6-foot-8 Hewlett became an enforcer for Bumpy upon Schultz’s murder in 1935. Actor Clarence Williams played Bub Hewlett in Hoodlum.

Jamison (Junie) Byrd – One of Bumpy’s most trusted men, Bumpy died in Byrd’s arms of a sudden heart attack in the early-morning hours of July 7, 1968 at Wells Restaurant in Harlem. Bumpy and Finlay Hoskins had been sharing a late-night meal of fried chicken and hominy grits.

John (Poor Johnny) Levy – A nightclub owner, hustler and racketeer, Levy romanced and married singer Billie Holiday. He owned The Vets Club and The Ebony Club.

Vincent (Vince the Prince) Nelson – The biggest pimp in Harlem in the mid-20th Century, Nelson was partners with Levy on the street and co-owner of The Vets Club, Bumpy’s most beloved haunt of the day.

Frank Lucas – Bumpy’s driver and bodyguard, Lucas, a North Carolina transplant, went on to lead Harlem’s “Country Boys” drug gang of the 1970s. Academy Award-winning actor Denzel Washington played Lucas in the popular 2007 film American Gangster.

Walter (Sonny) Chance – One of Bumpy’s most trusted men. Chance was present when Bumpy passed away in 1968 at Wells Restaurant.

Joe (Hoss) Steele – Colorful and flashy, Hoss Steel was the consummate businessman racketeer, known for a series of smart real estate investments on behalf of himself and Bumpy.

Richard (Pretty Ricky) Williams – Besides Nelson, Williams was the biggest pimp of that era in Harlem.

George (Georgie Boy) Rose – One of Bumpy’s most trusted men.

Frank Brooks & Horace Cartwright – Nat Pettigrew’s top two drug lieutenants.


  1. Everything is true you wrote expect the country boys part. They was Frank’s cousins but, they came up here and operated on their own. They had they own thing goin.They didn’t work for frank

    • I thought they were Franks crew, period. As he counted on the fact that outsiders would betray him much quicker than blood would. But I’m not positive about that Darnell? I could be mistaken and u could be absolutely right?


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