Godfather Of Harlem’s Bumpy Johnson (Forest Whitaker) has turned into the best screen representation of what the hero of the oppressed black Americans in 1960s Harlem looked like. Despite being based on a real person, Bumpy seems unreal, always beating the odds and thriving in one of the most oppressive eras in American history.
Bumpy navigates the unequal society like a real master of the streets, keeping a happy family, working as a community activist, and also being a great husband and father back home. He is still a mobster, and his violent and cruel side makes him dangerous, but his soft-spoken character and smiles cause people to underestimate him.
Now, he is an antihero, so there is a lot to hate about him. Bumpy is still a smart, well-read, forward-thinking person, and everything he says always resonates with viewers. Of the thousands of wise quotes bumpy gives in the show, these ten are by far his best.
1. “Romeo and Juliet isn’t a romance. It’s just two dumb kids who end up dead”
Bumpy warned Tedy against his relationship with Stella, reminding him that his Romeo and Juliet dreams didn’t apply in the real world, especially in Harlem. Tedy’s death was one of the saddest in Godfather of Harlem, and it is fair to say that his mother and Stella never really recovered from it.
It could have been avoided if Tedy had listened to Bumpy. The inequality and racial segregation of the 1960s meant that a black man dating a white girl made him a walking target. In Tedy’s case, the girl in question was the daughter of a deranged mobster, and Chin Gigante was never going to allow his daughter to marry a black man.
2. “I am the mob’s worst nightmare. I am a negro with a mind for numbers”
Bumpy was bossing the mob commission meeting after they summoned and threatened to kill him over his involvement in Zambrano’s murder. Bumpy reminded the commission that he wasn’t stupid like they assumed all black people were. He knew the details of each family’s business dealings by heart and could easily bring down the mob if they threatened his family. This quote also proves Bumpy’s bravery because any of the bosses could have easily ordered his death, which would be his end.
3. “… See the reason why the US and Russia don’t blow each other sky-high? …Mutually assured destruction”
“They have nuclear missiles pointed at each other,” Bumpy added, reminding the mob bosses that he had just as much power in their partnership as any of them. He was released from Alcatraz just after the Cuban Missile crisis, with the cold war at its peak. He understood the global political climate better than most people around him in that mob commission meeting. He was still reminding the families why putting a target on his head would be bad because he had enough information to end them.
4. “You gotta understand. No one puts their child on a boat, unless the water is safer than land”
Having to send Margaret to South Carolina during his war with Gigante was one of the worst days for Bumpy Johnson. His fatherly instinct is one of his best attributes, and he never lets Margaret get into danger. When Chin Gigante threatened him, Bumpy told Mayme that he would keep his promise and make a family with Elise and Margaret. He had missed ten years with them while in prison, and sending them away just after his return was painful. He was still wise enough to make his little girl understand, and the bond between the two was just adorable to watch.
5. “This is a game of chess, and I’m putting their greed in check”
Bumpy was addressing his men after plotting to steal the cocaine shipped in the cars by Jean Jehan from Mersseile. He had managed to unite the Harlem gangs to make his famous 10 Harlems, and stealing the drugs was the only way he would get the mob bosses to listen to him.
Stealing from the mob was a little crazy even for Bumpy, but it was the only way he would get his share of the profits from the business. The families had refused to give him a share of the heroin shipment even though he went to prison without snitching to protect them. To make it worse, Chin was determined to keep Bumpy’s turf and put him out of business.
6. “I am a second-class citizen in my own country, and I gotta fight for what is mine”
Jean Jehan couldn’t understand why Bumpy was so bitter with the world he was living in until Bumpy gave his freedom fighter’s speech. The life of a Black man in Harlem was miserable, and oppression was what they woke up to every day. Despite Bumpy working the hardest to get drugs into Harlem from France, the bosses still had full control over the cargo.
They also got to choose who would get to distribute it and were going to cut him out. As far as the Italians were concerned, the life of a black person didn’t have much value, and Bumpy was determined to prove them wrong. He would never give up what was rightfully his without a fight.
7. “For Blacks and Jews, justice is a dish always served cold”
Robert Morgenthau tried convincing Bumpy to snitch on the Italian mob, starting with Chin Gigante. Morgenthau reminded him that being the black man in the alliance, the Italians would sell him out without second thought. His quotes about the interpretation of justice in Jewish culture interested Bumpy, but the Godfather knew that justice for a black man in Harlem could never come through the same government that oppressed him and his people. With this quote, he then reminded the FBI agent how elusive justice was for their two races in that era.
8. “Yet be man low, or be he great, no one controls a strong man’s fate”
This quote comes from Bumpy’s best monologue in the show as he remembered the oppression he suffered in Alcatraz. It came during a flashback of his time at the prison when the guards beat him badly when he tried to stop a guard from taking away Margaret’s doll. That monologue helped him decide against working with the FBI and follow his own path. There is no doubting Bumpy’s mental strength and survival instinct that always kicks in, even in his lowest moments.
9. “Guapo was a snitch. The shells should have factored that in”
Bumpy said these words to Jose Battle when he refused to partner with him initially because his priestess’ beads apparently spelled danger. Battle told him that the spirit of his partner Guapo that Bumpy killed, probably intervened, leading to Bumpy’s rude answer in the quote.
Partnering with Jose Battle seemed like a good idea initially, but it has turned out to be one of Bumpy’s worst business partnerships in the show. He had a better chance of making it with Colombo than Battle. The battle just wanted to use Bumpy and couldn’t be trusted.
10. “Do you know why I never slept in Alcatraz?… Because I didn’t know what happened to you”
Bumpy was giving his best-ever father-daughter speech to Elise since he left Alcatraz, and he totally nailed it. Despite being Bumpy’s daughter, Elise always felt like an outsider in the family because he abandoned her while she was addicted to heroin. She was even angrier now that Bumpy was trying to control her life after she took charge of it. Bumpy had no way of helping her while in Alcatraz, though, and has proved since he returned that he really loves her.