Mayme H. Johnson, 94, widow of Harlem gangster

Posted: May 18, 2009

Mayme Hatcher Johnson, 94, widow of a legendary Harlem gangster, died of heart failure May 1 at Kearsley, a West Philadelphia retirement community.

In 1948, Mrs. Johnson married Ellsworth "Bumpy" Johnson, portrayed in American Gangster, the 2007 film that focused on another Harlem underworld figure, Frank Lucas.

Her husband died in 1968, and after moving to Philadelphia in 2004, Mrs. Johnson wrote Harlem Godfather: The Rap on My Husband, Ellsworth "Bumpy" Johnson, published last year.

"She was tickled pink to tell people she was an author at age 93," said Henry Perkins, owner of Perks, a restaurant on Manhattan Avenue near 122d Street in Harlem.

"Boy, it really made her proud to finally get that book done."

The quotes came from the coauthor of the work, Karen E. Quinones Miller, her goddaughter, a former Inquirer reporter and chief executive of Oshun Publishing, which brought out the book.

Miller said the book had been optioned for a movie.

Mrs. Johnson was born near Ashville, N.C., Miller said, and moved to New York in 1938, where she became a waitress at Hagar's, a Washington Heights club owned by actress Ethel Waters. Mrs. Johnson later was a hostess at a Manhattan restaurant.

Mayme Hatcher's meeting with Bumpy Johnson in 1948 was pure chance, Miller said.

"Bumpy had just come out of Dannamora," Miller said, after he had served 10 years at that state prison in northern New York.

Mrs. Johnson was having dinner at a restaurant on Seventh Avenue near 122d Street when Johnson walked in, and though she brushed him off, "he sat down and proceeded to talk about everything in the world," Miller said.

"She became so fascinated that they left the restaurant together, went to the movies, and that was it. They were married three months later."

In a review of American Gangster, the British newspaper the Guardian noted that Bumpy Johnson was portrayed by actor Laurence Fishburne in two other films, Hoodlum and The Cotton Club.

"In the early 1930s," the review stated, "Johnson got his big break when he was hired as a leg-breaker and bodyguard by the reigning queen of uptown crime, Madame Stephanie St. Clair," who was among the leaders in the Harlem numbers rackets.

The Web site www.blackpast.org reports that after a gang war, Johnson took over the Harlem rackets "in exchange for protection by the Mafia then led by Lucky Luciano. The arrangement lasted for four decades."

Mrs. Johnson is survived by a granddaughter, Margaret; a great-grandson Anthony; a brother, Melvin; and a sister, Lily Andrews.

Contact staff writer Walter F. Naedele at 215-854-5607 or wnaedele@phillynews.com.

comments powered by Disqus
|
|
|
|
|