Original Gangster: The Real Life Story of One of America's Most Notorious Drug Lords

Original Gangster: The Real Life Story of One of America's Most Notorious Drug Lords

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by Frank Lucas

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A suspenseful memoir from the real life American gangster, Frank Lucas

In his own words, Frank Lucas recounts his life as the former heroin dealer and organized crime boss who ran Harlem during the late 1960s and early 1970s. From being taken under the wing of old time gangster Bumpy Johnson, through one of the most


A suspenseful memoir from the real life American gangster, Frank Lucas

In his own words, Frank Lucas recounts his life as the former heroin dealer and organized crime boss who ran Harlem during the late 1960s and early 1970s. From being taken under the wing of old time gangster Bumpy Johnson, through one of the most successful drug smuggling operations, to being sentenced to seventy years in prison, Original Gangster is a chilling look at the rise and fall of a modern legacy.

Frank Lucas realized that in order to gain the kind of success he craved he would have to break the monopoly that the Italian mafia held in New York. So Frank cut out middlemen and began smuggling heroin into the United States directly from his source in the Golden Triangle by using coffins. Making a million dollars per day selling "Blue Magic"—what was known as the purest heroin on the street—Frank Lucas became one of the most powerful crime lords of his time, while rubbing shoulders with the elite in entertainment, politics, and crime. After his arrest, Federal Judge Sterling Johnson, the special narcotics prosecutor in New York at the time of Lucas' crimes, called Lucas and his operation "one of the most outrageous international dope-smuggling gangs ever, an innovator who got his own connections outside the U.S. and then sold the narcotics himself in the street."

This powerful memoir reveals what really happened to the man whose career was dramatized in the 2007 feature film American Gangster, exposing a startling look at the world of organized crime.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
From a sharecropper's shack in North Carolina to the top of Harlem's drug trade, Lucas recounts his eventful life in vivid detail. After witnessing his cousin's murder by the Klan in 1936, Lucas began stealing food for his family at age six, graduated to assault and robbery, and made his way to Harlem in 1944 at age 14. Smart and ruthless, he became the right-hand man of notorious gangster Bumpy Johnson, who controlled numbers rackets around the city. After Johnson's death in 1968, Lucas began his drug empire. He cut out the middleman (importing from Southeast Asia a heroin so pure it was nicknamed “Blue Magic”). Law enforcement finally caught up with him in 1975. Sentenced to 40 years, Lucas only served six after agreeing to identify some crooked cops. Lucas finally told his story to a journalist and in 2007 the movie American Gangster, based on his life, was released. With journalist King's aid, Lucas is a straightforward yet compelling narrator, never making excuses for his life of crime, though he has come to regret it. 8 pages of color photos. (June)
From the Publisher
“Lucas spins a yarn that gives a new view of Black history that’s good enough to be paired with an outdoor porch, a few lazy hours and a cold beer on a warm Saturday night.” —Ebony Magazine

Library Journal
An act of shocking violence witnessed by the six-year-old Frank Lucas opens this spellbinding memoir by one of Harlem's most famous heroin smugglers. Growing up in 1930s North Carolina, Lucas turned to a life of crime to support his family. He made his way to New York, getting by on petty theft and street crime, until the gangster Bumpy Johnston took him under his wing. Lucas rose quickly in the underworld, taking a tremendous risk to smuggle heroin himself and earning a staggering profit by cutting out the middlemen. He counted many a politician, entertainer, and sports figure among his friends, and his story inspired the 2007 movie American Gangster, starring Denzel Washington. But, finally, his lifestyle attracted the wrong kind of attention, and he found himself sentenced to 70 years in prison. He was paroled after five years but later served further time for another conviction. Here he expresses remorse for the lives that were ruined by the product he sold, but the overall tone is a fond remembrance of a life lived in the fast lane. VERDICT With the connection to American Gangster, this should be a hit with movie buffs as well as true-crime fans.—Deirdre Bray Root, Middletown P.L., OH

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Original Gangster

The Real Life Story of One of America's Most Notorious Drug Lords

By Frank Lucas, Aliya S. King

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 2010 Frank Lucas with Aliya S. King
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4299-2385-9


It's been more than seventy years. But I can see the whole thing as clear as a bell. I wasn't but six years old and I was wearing those redfooted pajamas with the flap on the butt. Something woke me up with a start. It was early morning, summer of 1936.

I looked toward the front door of the one-room shack I shared with my parents in rural North Carolina. My favorite cousin, Obadiah Biden, had been staying with us. We usually slept together on a straw pallet on the floor. But when I woke up, Obadiah wasn't there.

There was a group of loud, angry men yelling outside our house and Obadiah was on his way to the front door to see what was going on.

My father was away for a few days and we were alone with my mother. I remember getting out of bed, listening in fear to the sounds of men yelling out for my cousin to come to the door. In front of me was a chair with a shirt hanging on it. I put it on over my pajamas to cover myself up. I even remember that the shirt was much too big for me and hung down to my knees. I think it was either my father's shirt or Obadiah's.

"Obadiah, what's going on?" I asked, rubbing my eyes and trying to sit up.

"Stay here, Frank," my cousin told me.

"Come out here, nigger! NOW!" I heard a man scream. The harsh sound of the man's voice made me jump. My blood went cold and I watched my cousin's fearful face as he stood by the door.

"If you don't come out here right now, we're coming in to get you!" another of the men yelled out.

Obadiah opened the front door and was snatched up by the three men who had come to our home looking for him. All of them were white and beefy — perfect examples of what you would call rednecks.

Our small shack had a wide wraparound porch. So, as soon as Obadiah was snatched out the front door, I slipped around to the side of the house to peek out and see what was going on.

I still wish I hadn't done that.

I craned my neck to look around to the front of the house to try and make out what was going on. It was almost too much for my six-year-old mind to comprehend.

Those three white men, thick and rugged, converged on my cousin Obadiah, tussling and struggling with him while yelling and cursing.

"You ought to know better than to be staring at no girl around here, nigger," said one of them, a tall man with small, beady eyes.

He took a long piece of rope and twisted it around my cousin's wrist. He then took the slack of the rope and tied a knot around Obadiah's other wrist, as the other men held him.

The men pulled the ropes tight, so that Obadiah was forced to stand with his hands spread out. And then I watched, in horror, as the man stepped close to my cousin's face.

He said, "You eyeballing a white girl? Is that what you want, nigga? You want a white girl?" And then he slammed Obadiah in the mouth with the butt of his gun. Obadiah had broken teeth and blood spewing out of his mouth, and a feeling of rage and fear hit my gut hard.

That man then brought his double-barreled shotgun up and shoved the gun as far down my cousin's throat as he could while his partners held Obadiah tight.

"Look here, nigga. This is what happens when you look at white girls you ain't go no business looking at."

And then he positioned his fingers on both triggers. And pulled them both at the same time.

My cousin Obadiah was my best friend. He was like a brother to me. He would take me to the store occasionally to buy me penny candy, if he had a penny. He took me out to the woods and taught me everything from how to use a slingshot to how to make a ball out of twine. He took me fishing and sometimes he'd even let me shoot off his rifle in the woods.

Obadiah Biden was my hero. And that night, I watched my favorite cousin, his head completely blown apart by the gunshot blast, fall into a crumpled heap in the dirt in front of our home. Let me explain to you what I saw. You need to know exactly what I'm talking about. From the front — my dead cousin Obadiah looked the same. But in the back, there was no back. You could fit a melon in the hole they blasted in the back of his head.

He was thirteen years old.

I saw something that morning that no child should ever see. I was a witness to something so bloody, brutal, and vicious that I have never been the same.

I couldn't get the image of Obadiah's crumpled, bloody corpse out of my mind. And so I ran, as far and as fast as my little tiny legs could take me. I was still wearing my pajamas. But I was just so scared that I didn't know what else to do. I ran out into the woods and kept moving until the woods were so thick with brush that I couldn't go any farther.

I sat down on the ground, hugging my knees to my chest, rocking back and forth, and crying my eyes out. I couldn't imagine what Obadiah could have done to make those men do that to him. My cousin was a good, decent kid. Barely a teenager. And they had killed him in cold blood in front of me and my mother. I cried harder and harder, trying to get the picture out of my mind. After a while, I must have fallen asleep out there. 'Cause the next thing I remember was hearing a man's voice yelling out my name.

"Frank! Frank Lucas, are you out here!"

I woke up frightened. I thought it could have been those white men who'd killed my cousin. As far as I knew, they could be coming back to kill me. So I didn't answer.

"Frank? Did you hear me calling you, boy?"

I looked up to see my father, sweaty and out of breath, standing right next to me. I jumped up and ran to him. I hadn't even known he'd returned from his trip, and I was very relieved to see him.

"Why would you run away like that? Your mother's been worried sick, looking for you!"

"I was scared. You saw what they did to Cousin Obadiah?"

My dad picked me up and started walking back through the woods to our shack.

"Yes, Frank. I saw it all."

We went back to the house and I saw my parents speaking to each other in low voices. Their faces were full of worry.

My mother was a handsome woman, small in stature with cocoa-brown skin. Even though she wasn't a tall woman, there was something about her that just exuded power and confidence. A look from my mother could freeze a grown person in his tracks. My father wasn't a tall man, either. But again, he wasn't someone you wanted to mess with. He had a broad body with wide shoulders and looked liked he could break a person in two with his bare hands. He wasn't a friendly man. He was more focused on taking care of his family in a tough time. Can't say I saw either of my parents smile too much. And they weren't particularly affectionate toward me and my younger siblings or to each other.

But it was a different time period. Parents weren't touchy-feely with their kids. You were just lucky to keep them alive. Danger lurked around every corner in my parents' day. Younever knew if you would have enough food to eat. Or if something like what happened to Obadiah was on the horizon.

Three days after Obadiah's murder, my father hitched up a mule and wagon and we rode a few miles out to Rockford Church, where our pastor, Peter Hood, preached the funeral for my cousin. It was the saddest thing you'd ever want to see. I could not stop crying throughout the ceremony. Not just because Obadiah was dead, but the way he died — so violently and senselessly. I couldn't get that scene out of my head, nomatter how hard I tried. And I wasn't just sad — I was enraged.

What happened to my family was not unusual. In those days, it happened way more than it ever should have. Something changed within me. I often wonder what kind of man I would have turned out to be if my cousin Obadiah had not been killed right in front of me. Maybe I would have stayed in La Grange. Maybe I would have become a sharecropper like my parents, farming tobacco and living off the land. Ihave no idea. But I do know that Obadiah's death had a profound effect on my development. After his funeral, I knew I'd never be the same.

My family was helpless. The men who had killed my cousin were members of the Ku Klux Klan. And they ruled over black people in the South with an iron fist. But my father was not going to let Obadiah die in vain. He went into town a few days later to talk to the sheriff about what had happened to his nephew and demand that the Klansmen be arrested. That discussion ended when the sheriff put my daddy out of his office. He said something like, "Nigga, get your ass outta here before I lock you up."

My daddy went home and he was pissed off. Told everyone who would listen how he was gonna get the sheriff for disrespecting him like that. "I'ma kill 'im," he kept saying over and over.

Word got back to the sheriff that my daddy was talking about getting back at him. And so a day or two after my daddy talked to him, here comes the sheriff.

I was there, along with my parents. I stood right there and watched as that white man came into our house and asked my dad if it was true that he was talking about getting back at them.

"You ain't doing nothing to nobody," the sheriff said to my father, who had a stony, blank look on his face. "You ain't doing a goddamn thing."

I'm not exactly sure what happened next. Maybe the sheriff went to slap Daddy or something like that. All I know is that before I could blink twice, those two were fighting allover the house, knocking over things and wrestling all over the bed my parents shared. I stayed close to my mother, frightened.

The sheriff ran out of the house to his car to get his shotgun. But before he could even turn back around, my father had got his own shotgun, pointed it at the man, and squeezed off with both barrels. I will never forget that sheriff. He wasn't fat, but he had a big ass and was wearing white pants. And as soon as my daddy shot him, we saw a bright spot of red spreading across the back of those white pants.

That sheriff hopped into the car and drove away real fast.

Now here we are. My father shot the sheriff. He was not going to be able to just sit there to wait for whomever they sent to arrest him. They wouldn't just lock him up. They'd kill him. My father took off, planning to hide in the woods for as long as he needed to.

In the span of one week, my whole family structure had fallen apart. First, my cousin had been killed. Then my dad had to leave. My mom, a hardworking woman who was as strong as any man I knew, was left alone as my dad went into hiding. And I, at six years old, was now the man of the house.

And my family was going to have to eat. Even though my mother never came right out and told me she would need help to feed the family, I knew I would have to do something.

Someone once said that hunger makes a thief of any man. And I believe that's true. My life of crime began at age six. I became a thief so that my family could eat — plain and simple. And I continued my life on the wrong side of the law until I became one of the biggest, most notorious criminals that the United States can lay claim to.

A few days after my daddy went into hiding, he returned.

"Daddy!" I yelled out, when I saw him at the front door.

"Shhhh," my mother whispered, covering my mouth with her hand. "You trying to get your daddy killed? No one can know he's here."

My dad crept into the house, hugged my mother and me and my baby brothers. He had a dead squirrel and a few rabbits he'd killed out in the woods and he gave them to my mother so she could make stew out of them.

"Are you okay out there?" my mother asked my father.

"No," he said. "But I will be."

"When are you going to be able to come home for good?"

"I don't know. When the sheriff stops looking for me, I suppose."

"That might never happen," my mother said, her eyes filling with tears.

"We're gonna be fine," my father said.

After a tear-filled dinner of rabbit stew and vegetables, my father had to take to the woods once again. I cried, knowing I might not see him for another month or possibly longer. He was going to have to stay hidden for as long as possible, until the heat was off.

During my father's absences, I noticed that my mother, as proud as she was, was having a hard time keeping enough food in the house. She had to chop wood for the fires to keep us warm, try to hunt animals for meat, tend to the gardens, and she had to do all the farm work my father normally did. All this and she had to attend to me and all my siblings. Even though I was only six, I was the oldest boy and I knew I had to help.

I began stealing chickens and other livestock from nearby farms to feed my family. I wasn't a natural thief. I was a very good kid — before Obadiah was killed. But after that happened, I was just dead inside. Obadiah was gone. My father was hiding out from the sheriff. I was in survivor mode. My mom needed my help and I was going to do anything in my power to assist her. We lived several miles from the closest farm. I would walk out for miles and miles, until I got to a farm that wasn't well tended. I'd run into the chicken coop and steal chickens and eggs. The next time, I might try to get a goat. Once, I even stole a whole pig and brought it back to my mom.

My mother never asked where I'd gotten the livestock. And I never told her. We both understood what was going on. We had to eat, plain and simple, and she needed my help, even though I was little more than a baby myself.

By the age of nine, I'd moved on to robbing the johns waiting outside Ava Blackman's piccolo joint and whorehouse, a few miles from my family's shack outside La Grange, North Carolina. They'd come out drunk as a skunk and careless. I'dhit them in the head with a brick or a bat, steal their money, and run. It was almost too easy. The first time, I got ten dollars. Might not seem like much today. But back then, it was enough to feed my family for months.

I was a reckless and vicious thief, motivated not by greed but solely by my need to survive.

I will make no excuses for the life I began to lead. But I knew early on that I wasn't going to accept the life my parents had to forge for us. There was just no way. I can't tell you exactly why I turned out the way I did, but I know I've never recovered from seeing what the Klan did to my cousin. They may not have created me, but they damn sure contributed to the man I was to become.

By the time I was a teenager, I'd lived enough for two people. I became too much for my neck of the woods. The last straw was when I broke in to the general store in town and stole four hundred dollars. Four hundred dollars back then felt like all the money in the world. It really felt like a million dollars would to me now. It was a serious crime and I couldn't wait around for them to figure out it was me who did it. I had to leave town.

I went on to Wilson, North Carolina, and stayed with an aunt there while I tried to think of my next step. I'd heard people talking about how Kentucky was called the Bluegrass State and for some reason I kept thinking about that. I wondered if it was true and just what "blue grass" would look like. With the money I had from the general-store robbery, I sent my momma two hundred dollars and got myself a bus ticket to Kentucky.

Now, you have to remember, I was barely thirteen years old at this point. And I was already on my own, trying to find my way as best I could, and usually depending on my skills as a thief to survive.

On the bus to Kentucky, we stopped in Knoxville, Tennessee. There was a layover for an hour. So I got out and started walking around. About three blocks from the bus station, I found a group of men playing a craps game against the wall of an abandoned factory. I perked up. This would be a way for me to get some money. Back in North Carolina, I had learned how to play craps from hanging around the whorehouse, waiting to rob the drunken customers.

Craps is a game of chance; you're either hot or you're cold. For some reason, I was often hot with a pair of dice in my hand.

At first, I just observed, keeping an eye on how much money they had.

"You trying to get in this game or what?" one guy said. He looked like he was a few years older than me. Taller than me but not much.

"What they rolling for?" I asked.

"Dollar ..."


Excerpted from Original Gangster by Frank Lucas, Aliya S. King. Copyright © 2010 Frank Lucas with Aliya S. King. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

FRANK LUCAS is a former heroin dealer and organized crime boss who operated in Harlem during the 60's and 70's. His career was the focus of the 2007 film American Gangster.

ALIYA S. KING, a native of East Orange, New Jersey has been writing professionally since 1998 and has written features and music profiles for a bevy of magazines. Keep The Faith, her collaboration with singer Faith Evans, is a New York Times bestselling title.

Frank Lucas is a former heroin dealer and organized crime boss who operated in Harlem during the 60's and 70's. His career was the focus of the 2007 film American Gangster.
Aliya S. King, a native of East Orange, New Jersey has been writing professionally since 1998 and has written features and music profiles for a bevy of magazines. Keep The Faith, her collaboration with singer Faith Evans, is a New York Times bestselling title.

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