Posted by Wendell Mitchell on 06.21.2008
Learn the story of a man that nearly became a Libyan sponsored
gangster, the exploits of a gang leader whose ideas inspired New
Jack, and how good a job Denzel Washington did playing Frank Lucas.
Let's look at the lives of three more of the country's most notorious
Frank Lucas and the Coffin Connection
Frank Lucas Jr. claims that the real life story of his father is more
fascinating than the movie, but if you were to judge solely by the
merits of this episode, you would probably be a bit skeptical.
After the interesting story of Larry Hoover, and captivating account
of Melvin Williams' life, the episode dedicated to Frank Lucas is
noticeably not as attention grabbing.
Born in the rural south, Lucas started his criminal career at the
tender age of eight. After witnessing his cousin murdered by the KKK
for "eyeballing a white woman," his father confronted the sheriff,
killed him, and Frank was left to raise his younger siblings. Not
seeing many alternatives, he would wait outside of clubs or
prostitution houses and attack the inebriated or otherwise distracted
patrons and steal their money. This would go on until he was caught
and put on a chain gang. He would eventually break free and flee to
Harlem, hook up with father figure Bumpy Johnson and become educated
in the ways of gangsterism.
After Bumpy died of a heart attack amidst intense investigation of
his organization in 1968, Lucas took over, and cemented his status by
killing a local tough called Tango.
The episode gets a bit interesting here as there are conflicting
stories about how Lucas first got connected with Thailand.
Authorities and the film argue that he met with a local G.I. Leslie
"Ike" Atkinson who ran a bar, knew the locals, and eventually
introduced him to the man that oversaw the poppy fields that would
provide the raw material.
Lucas has been quoted in other material as agreeing to this story,
yet in the episode he says he did it all alone and had only a passing
involvement with Atkinson. He also does not mention anything about
Atkinson being married to one of his [Lucas] cousins.
The "coffin connection" involved Lucas substituted military coffins
with his own that possessed hollow bottoms where he would transport his drugs.
By cutting out the middle man and setting everything up himself,
Lucas reported accrued one million dollars daily at the height of his
empire. He even gained enough influence that the Italian mob bought
their heroin from him.
Normally low key, the one time Lucas's wife persuaded him to live a
little, he wore $150,000 dollar chinchilla coat and hat to the
Ali/Fraiser fight and drew the attention of federal agents. The
agents were in attendance to keep tabs on the various mob bosses and
were interested in how respected Lucas was amongst them. Four years
later, they would indict Lucas on heroin trafficking charges. He
spent a few years behind bars, got out, busted again 3 years later
and after his former prosecutor defended him, only had to server
seven years of a life sentence.
American Gangster the film is about as accurate a story of Lucas life
as one could probably get. There were a few things Lucas denies, such
as turning state evidence; or outright neglects to address such as
spending time in federal witness protection. Like those before him,
he claims to not care about the collateral damage his ascent to power
caused, but Richie Roberts, the arresting officer and lead prosecutor
of Lucas paints a different picture of a man feeling remorse for what
he did to his community.
Rating 6.5: Mainly for the fact that Lucas could not read up until
late adult hood and controlled such a huge empire. There is some good
stuff here, but the episode as a whole was not nearly as interesting
as I would have liked it to be because Lucas seemed more guarded than
Williams and Hoover.
Felix Mitchell, Jr. and Oakland Drug Wars
This episode begins with a brief recap of Mitchell's funeral, which
depending on your viewpoint was either "a ceremony befitting a king"
or "a horrible glorification of the exploits of a drug dealer."
Another fairly bland episode as compared to disc one. This one is
slightly below the Lucas episode.
Since the subject is deceased, a vital component of the story is missing.
This is also one of the more graphic episodes, depicting scenes of
mutilated bodies and bullet ridden corpses lying in fields, where in
most episodes they merely showed the covered bodies on stretchers.
Like many of the gang leaders depicted throughout this series,
Mitchell was considered highly intelligent, but felt trapped by the
system and turned to drugs. If you've seen one movie about black drug
dealers, you know his story. In fact, much of New Jack City was based
on his "small timer makes it big" story, including using a housing
project as a distribution center and utilizing the tenants as workers.
Easily the most interesting aspects of his story are his collision
with Black Panther founder Huey P. Newton, which I would have liked
them to get explore more.
Despite their militant nature, the Panthers did really want change
and did not approve of Mitchell's tactics; especially his
incorporation of young children to serve as look outs.
Mitchell's downfall can be directly attributed to his rivalry with
Mickey Moore. The escalated violence between the two, involving six
reported murders and the kidnapping of Mitchell's young son, garnered
police attention and by 1985, Mitchell was convicted and sentenced to
life in prison. He lasted just a year before he was stabbed a
reported fourteen times. No one has claimed the stabbing to this day.
Rating 6.0: Above average. The episode played as if Ving Rhames read
Mitchell's wikipedia entry and every now and then a former associate
or teenager would declare him a hero to the community while others
decried him as the cause of Oakland becoming as violent as it is today.
Jeff Fort and the Black Stone Rangers
Like many a gang head before him, Fort's original goal for his gang
was to provide protection for one another and by extension, their
While still a youth, he and Eugene Hairston founded what would become
Black Stone Rangers while serving time at a youth detainment facility.
As the gang grew, so did their ambitions and it was not long before
they entered the drug game.
They would eventually feud with the East Side Disciples and
assimilate several smaller gangs into their fold to become the Black
P Stone Nation. The P stood for "prince" and invoked the stories of
their African forefathers that Fort would tell members.
Once Hairston was jailed, and Fort took control, the membership
thrived at nearly three thousand members and despite preaching about
fighting oppression and injustice, they too would be considered by
many as nothing but drug dealers and killers.
As with the previous episode, the most interesting moments involve
the Black Panther party.
In 1967, as they tried to gain a foothold in Chicago, Fort received a
federal grant to aid his community. The mayor was outraged because
the money went directly to Fort's organization and not through any
city channels. Details are sketchy, but Fort alledgedly misapporiated
the funds and was charged. Fort would retaliate by organizing thirty
thousand voters not to turn out for the election in 1968.
In light of Fort's success, the Black Panthers would try to recruit
Fort and steer him away from the drugs and turf wars continue to
mobilize the people for political power. Fort respected the offer and
considered it, but fake letters circulated by the government kept
them divided. Conspiracy theory? Perhaps, but J. Edgar Hoover has
been quoted as saying the greatest threat to the status quo of the
country was black people with political influence.
After the murder of a police officer, Fort was arrested and convicted
of his earlier charge of misappropriation of funds. He would spend
four years in jail and convert to Islam. His group would undergo
another name change, El Rukn, Arabic for "stone," like the other men
on spread across these two discs, he streamlined his organization and
attacked the drug game with a greater zeal. By 1983 he would plead
guilty to the transporting narcotics.
Like Larry Hoover, whom he would eventually share a penitentiary
with, he would run the remnants of his empire from jail by utilizing
a phone code and having female members work for the phone company.
Here is where his story diverges from the other men on this list.
After Muammar Al-Gaddafi's public donation to Louis Farrakhan, Fort
ordered three of his men to meet with Libyan forces and procure $2.5
million on the condition they would commit terrorist acts in America
on their behalf, which included bombing police stations and shooting
down a plane.
Federal authorities got wind of this and stopped them before it got
off the ground.
From petty gangster to domestic terrorist, Fort was eventually
sentenced to 80 years behind bars. Despite all this, every August
former members of the gang and sympathizers within the community
gather to celebrate the hope Fort's actions instilled in his community.
Rating 7.0. A bit more interesting than Lucas's story because of how
it started like every other gangster story and became a story of a
potential home grown terror cell.