Godfather of Harlem: Were Bumpy and Malcolm X Friends in Real Life?

Bumpy Johnson and Malcolm X real life friendship explained 1

Bumpy Johnson (Forest Whitaker) swore to avenge Malcolm X’s (Nigel Thatch) death at the end of Godfather of Harlem’s third season, which suggests that he is willing to go up against Malcolm’s powerful enemies. Despite Bumpy being a gangster and Malcolm X being the closest thing to a saint in the show, the two were best friends. Their brotherhood in the show is unheard of, so most fans wonder whether the real-life Bumpy and Malcolm X were friends.

The truth is that Malcolm X and Bumpy Johnson were real friends, and Bumpy provided security for Malcolm when his life was threatened. They worked together in the 1940s when Malcolm was a street hustler called Detroit Red, while Bumpy Johnson worked as an enforcer for the Harlem mob boss Stephanie St. Claire. The extent of their friendship is not well detailed in Malcolm X’s biography, but their partnership in the struggle for equality for black people in Harlem was not a secret.

Unlike regular gangsters, Bumpy was educated and politically woke, just like Malcolm, putting him in the best position to continue with Malcolm X’s struggle. Despite their differences, Bumpy and Malcolm were great to watch in Godfather of Harlem, which is why many fans would love to see how “The Godfather” avenges his best friend’s death. So, does Bumpy take on the CIA and the FBI, or just the NOI to avenge Malcolm? Let’s delve into the details.

Bumpy Johnson and Malcolm X were friends in real life

When Malcolm was a street hustler named Detroit Red in the 1940s, he is bound to have met Bumpy, who was working for Stephanie St. Claire, the mob boss of Harlem at the time, also called The Queen of Numbers.

When Bumpy was released from Prison in Godfather of Harlem, he referred to Malcolm as Detroit Red, which agrees with the historical accounts.

In the show, Malcolm said that Bumpy set him on the path to joining Islam. Malcolm said that Bumpy picked him off the streets when he was addicted to heroin and motivated him to get himself clean and follow his dreams.

There is no evidence of Malcolm being a drug addict, although there are few details regarding Malcolm X’s time in the streets, so it is still possible that Bumpy was Malcolm X’s mentor.


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Bumpy and Malcolm obviously became friends before he went to prison, which explains the cordial welcome Bumpy received from Malcolm upon his release from Alcatraz.

Malcolm X told Bumpy Johnson to withdraw his men from his security detail just two weeks before he was shot in February 1965.

While the Bumpy still tried to protect Malcolm against his will in the show after he rejected any protection, there are no details of that having happened in Malcolm’s biography.

In real life, Malcolm only rejected Bumpy’s protection because he didn’t want Bumpy’s image as a gangster to tarnish his reputation as a nationalist and civil rights activist.

Bumpy Johnson and Malcolm X’s relationship explained

malcolm johnson 1

Bumpy Johnson and Malcolm X saw each other as friends and brothers, united by their feeling of responsibility for the oppressed people of Harlem.

They both suffered the dangerous consequences of corruption and inequality in Harlem as the government and the mob used race as the basis for oppressing them.

With no one to turn to, Bumpy and Malcolm turned to each other despite the difference in their philosophies about how to approach the liberation of black people.

Malcolm X hadn’t joined the Nation of Islam by the time Bumpy Johnson went to Alcatraz, but the seeds of becoming a political activist had already been planted in him.

He joined The Nation under Elijah Mohammad because he thought Islam would eventually deliver liberation for black people in the US. Still, he later realized that Mohammad was just a selfish person, only interested in what was good for him.

When Bumpy agreed to help Malcolm remove heroin from the streets of Harlem, Malcolm X thought he finally had a reliable ally to fight for black people in Harlem, even using force when needed.

He was betrayed when he realized that Bumpy only wanted to remove Chin Gigante from the streets of Harlem to claim it as his drug territory and that he only used Malcolm and the NOI to achieve that goal.

In spite of their disagreement regarding Bumpy’s criminal activities, Malcolm and Bumpy respected each other and would always work together whenever a case involving black people in Harlem needed their intervention.


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The show also created a relationship between Malcolm and Bumpy’s families through Malcolm X’s friendship with Elise Johnson, who later works for Malcolm as his assistant.

There are no details of such a relationship in real life, but it did complement the two men’s friendship in the show. Elise Johnson acted as the main bridge between Malcolm and Bumpy, bringing out the best in both men.

Malcolm eventually realized that Bumpy’s philosophy of using his criminal empire to fight for black people against white privilege and government oppression could still achieve the same purpose as his activism.

Their friendship never ended, although they had differences, and when Malcolm fell out with the NOI and started receiving death threats, Bumpy was happy to provide his men to protect him and his family.

Who killed Malcolm X in Godfather of Harlem?

Sister Marny in Godfather of Harlem 1

The three shooters that killed Malcolm X in the Season Three Finale of Godfather of Harlem were new characters introduced only during that episode.

However, the order of events leading to the shooting in the show agrees with what happened in real life, starting with Malcolm forcing Bumpy to withdraw his men from Malcolm’s security detail.

The three shooters are believed to be members of Mosque No.25 in Newark, New Jersey, where Captain Omar had received rumors of a plot to kill Malcolm X.

The three shooters, including the man with a sawed-off shotgun, approached the stage and shot Malcolm in cold blood, just like official accounts of the assassination say.

The FBI and the CIA were all accused of having failed to protect the nationalist or probably having had a hand in his assassination.

In the show, unnamed government agents arrested Bumpy Johnson’s men before they could reach the auditorium, where Malcolm would later be killed, which means at least one of the government agencies will eventually be implicated in the show’s future seasons.


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In real life, the three men convicted of Malcolm X’s murder were Thomas Hegan, Muhammad Abdul Aziz, and Khalil Islam.

All of them were members of the Nation of Islam from the New Jersey mosque, just like the show suggests, although there were rumors of the arrest and trial process having been bungled by the authorities.

However, Muhammad Abdul Aziz and Khalil Islam were later exonerated of the crime, leaving only Hegan as the last of the three shooters in the auditorium that day to be convicted.

What happened to Bumpy Johnson after Malcolm’s death?

Forest Whitaker as Bumpy Johnson in Godfather of Harlem 1

Bumpy Johnson died of heart failure while eating at a local restaurant in Harlem in 1968, just three years after Malcolm X’s death.

While Bumpy vows to avenge Malcolm’s death in Godfather of Harlem, there are no details about his plan in the show, and nothing is known of such a mission by Bumpy in real life either.

The only fact from the show is that Bumpy already eliminated Bill Harvey, his greatest threat in the CIA, making it easier for him to hurt anyone under him that could have been involved in the plot to kill Malcolm X.

Captain Omar and Elise Johnson had a big role to play in Bumpy’s plan because they knew the members of the NOI that wanted Malcolm X dead.

Bumpy was still considered a gangster by the time he died, so it is possible that he went back to his drug trafficking empire, which he seemed to have quit at the end of the show’s third season.

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