The Sad Connection Between Malcolm X And A Harlem Mob Boss

Malcolm X was a prominent figure in the civil rights era who advocated for militant self-defense among African Americans facing racist laws and statutes that prevented them from fully integrating into society. Unlike Martin Luther King Jr., who built his movement on a doctrine of peace and nonviolence, Malcolm X believed that Black people had to protect themselves from persecution to achieve justice. His politics, speeches, and religion helped grow the Black nationalist movement, even after his untimely assassination in 1965 (via History).

But Malcolm X had a vast network that included many figures — and not always reputable ones. Ellsworth Raymond Johnson, better known as Bumpy Johnson, was one of these people. During his life, he was one of the most notorious gang leaders in the country, according to The two had crossed paths back in the 1940s, and over time, as Malcolm X garnered more fame — and subsequently more enemies — he asked for help from his old friend.

Malcolm X's early life

Malcolm X was born on May 19, 1925 in Nebraska but moved to Michigan with his family shortly after. Tragically, when Malcolm was just a child, his father, Reverend Earl Little, died in a terrible car accident, leaving his mother to financially support herself and her eight children. By 1939, she had been admitted into a psych ward, leaving Malcolm and his siblings to raise themselves (via Britannica).

After moving to Harlem and being discouraged from continuing his studies, Malcolm X became a drug dealer and gang leader, leading to his arrest at age 21. However, while serving time in prison, Malcolm became acquainted with a group of black nationalist Muslims and adopted their teachings, replacing his first surname "Little" with "X" to eradicate his roots in enslavement, according to History. This led Malcolm X down the path of activism, racial justice, and politics, where he organized the Nation of Islam, which garnered more than 40,000 members by 1960.

Bumpy Johnson provides help

Ellsworth Raymond "Bumpy" Johnson (a nickname given to him due to the strange bump on his head) became involved in the Harlem crime scene after dropping out of high school, according to Biography. He had moved there when he was 10 years old after his older brother allegedly murdered a white man, forcing Bumpy and his family to move up north in fear of being lynched, states He gained notoriety as a mob boss spanning multiple decades.

As gang wars and organized crime grew rampant in Harlem, many citizens of the area experienced drug addiction. Malcolm X, having called Harlem home himself at one point, came to the area to advocate for rehabilitating the neighborhood and requested security from Bumpy Johnson since Malcolm was particularly vulnerable after leaving the Nation of Islam. Bumpy granted Malcolm X's wishes, but given Bumpy's criminal history, Malcolm decided to stop using his support, according to ATI. Tragically, only a few weeks later, on February 21, 1965, Malcolm X was assassinated. There was no clear evidence as to who the killers were, though three people from the Nation of Islam were originally thought to be responsible (via History). Both men left legacies after their deaths, albeit in two wildly different directions, showing how vast the crossroads of history go and the strange intersections between them.