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Culture » Frank Lucas: Lessons learned from the real ‘American Gangster’

Frank Lucas: Lessons learned from the real ‘American Gangster’

Frank Lucas, former heroin Kingpin who ran New York City (Photo Credit- Mo Barnes for Rolling Out)

Frank Lucas, former heroin Kingpin who ran New York City (Photo Credit- Mo Barnes for Rolling Out)

At one time, Frank Lucas was the most feared man in Harlem, New York. He was the “kingpin” who controlled the majority of the heroin trade in the city. His story was made famous by the 2007 film American Gangster that showed his rise to power and extravagant lifestyle. It also showed his ruthlessness and the fear he put into the hearts of others. Lucas was able to control the heroin trade by cutting out the Italian mafia and going straight to the source in Southeast Asia. He dealt directly with the producers of heroin and was able to bring the product back to the streets at a high potency. He marketed his heroin under the name Blue Magic and it became a preferred street brand among addicts in New York City. Lucas was later arrested and turned informant on many other drug dealers and crooked cops after he was facing a lengthy jail sentence. The end result was that all his riches and power were stripped away from him by the government and he served a relatively short time in prison considering his role in the drug trade.

Now Lucas is far from from his days as one of the richest Black drug dealers in America. He must use a motorized wheelchair because of a car accident that injured his legs. In addition, he is hard of hearing and his hands have become gnarled due to age and arthritis. But his mind is still keen and he had a story to tell at the offices of rolling out.

A lot has changed since you were in the drug game but some things are still the same. Young black men are still going to jail for dealing but not on the scale that you were. Will the streets of America ever be drug-free?
No. I don’t see it; that’s my opinion.

What are three of the most valuable lessons you learned as the Harlem kingpin?
Well, all I can say is go to church, praise God and try not to get in trouble.

People have called you many names but what made men fear you?
People fear people they respect because of the things that they do, because they are afraid [of] what they will do.

Do you think the government allowed your heroin trafficking to get so huge because it was perceived to be confined to the Black community?
I don’t know the answer to that, pass.

How has God impacted your life today?
He’s the only thing that impacts my life. No one else can do it. He is the Almighty. He’s the Alpha and the Omega that’s what he is.

What was your greatest fear when you and your family were in the witness protection program?
You got that wrong. Where that s**t come from? You got to fear somebody to be in the witness protection program and I have never feared nobody.

The legal sale of marijuana has become big business and yet there is a grass ceiling that keeps Blacks from making the transition from consumers to businesspeople. Why do you think that is the case?
I can’t answer that. I don’t smoke marijuana. I never been around it. I never dealt in marijuana. I don’t like the smell of it and I know nothing about it. Next question.

At one point you held a considerable amount of real estate that was eventually seized including property in New York.
I had a billion dollars worth of real estate; they took it all, every dime. I’m broke now.

In previous interviews, you stated you wanted to be “as big as Donald Trump.”
I was as big as Donald Trump. He got $40 billion; now, I got twenty cents.

What are five things people should do when stopped by police?
Stay in school, praise God and a bunch of other things I can’t think about.

What are some of the “Gangster Commandments”?
Well you know what a gangster is so I’m not even going to try to go into that. But for the average person, fear. And when they ask for something, try to get it to them. That’s what makes a person a billionaire.

What are businesses that Black people should be in but are not in?
I can’t give you five. But they should be in real estate and they should be in the movie industry like Mr. Denzel Washington.  Banking, business all that kind of stuff.

How did your wife change your life?
My wife changed my life [160] degrees. She wanted me to get out of the business but I didn’t listen. She died two months ago.

What does redemption mean to you and what role does it play in your life today?
Everything, everything, everything.

If you had something to do over in life, what would it be?
I guess I would be the chairman of Pepsi-Cola or something. But I didn’t go to school so I couldn’t get a job on Wall Street.  Unless, I cleaned the toilet out. So I had to make money some kind of way/  I wanted a big thick steak and champagne, so I had to did it another way. God bless “Bumpy” Johnson, he showed me the way. I went in with both feet. From the rice paddies of the Mekong Delta, the Ho Chi Minh Trail, Burma, Rangoon, Hong Kong and Malaysia, until I got what I wanted.

YYou mentioned “Bumpy” Johnson, what are two things  he told you that you will never forget?
Bumpy told me so much I can’t even begin. He was like my daddy, my godfather. He was a mild man, brother you wish you had a daddy like Bumpy. He was a great man.

When you’re dealing with a crooked cop what’s the most important thing?
[Response was deleted at the request of the Frank Lucas management team.]

What are your feelings on the Black Lives Matter movement and the protests of young Black people today?
Did you see what the guy did the other day down in Louisiana (referring to the police killing of Alton Sterling) I feel like murdering the other son of B—*.

Do you think that the activist in the Black Lives Matter movement are doing the right thing by protesting?
I think they should do it. I think the whole United States should be protesting.

What’s the greatest message you can give to our Black youth today?
Respect you mom and daddy and go to school. Let them live like a President Obama. Don’t let it be like it was when I grew up.

What do you have to say to young people who may be tempted into doing something immoral?
If you do Something immoral, you should be punished, But momma and daddy got to stop them before they do something immoral. They have to stop them while they are young. Don’t be scarred to put a strap on their ass.


  1. Sol Rothstein on July 26, 2016 at 3:28 pm

    Mo Barnes,

    Brotha, great job with this article. This is the type of readings that I look for from BLACK JOURNALIST. Not a bunch of GOSSIP and BUCK DANCES.

    Keep up the great journalism.

    • cupcake333 on July 26, 2016 at 5:59 pm


      • Sol Rothstein on July 26, 2016 at 8:17 pm

        F— FACE…

        If you don’t get the picture then ask questions and don’t make blank statements.

        CAN YOU please tell me a time in BLACK AMERICA where we had BILLIONAIRES and Millionaire at a higher rate than when the DRUG GAME WAS ON…

        Nope you cannot. BLACK AMERICA was ruined because white men didn’t like Black men getting rich.

        HERE is my proof….

        Current day HEROIN is 5 xs bigger than crack cocaine ever was…but do you hear WHITE Police/FOLKS kicking down doors and sending white boys to prison for 20+ years? HELL NO — they changed the law and don’t even call them dope-heads, they call them drug abusers and they get treatment at the POLICE STATION…Look it up. Heroin users can walk into any POLICE STATION with heroin and ask for help.

        When did they ever do that for BLACK Crackhead? When did they ever provide free treatment. When you got caught with crack, you got sober in PRISON !!!

        NOW please shut the f— up.

        • cupcake333 on July 27, 2016 at 3:44 pm

          SHI…T BODY DUDE .. read today rollingout!!! WHITE LOTTERY WINNER ARRESTED FOR RUNNING A METH LAB with his lottery win . a black man would not do that ignorant shit okkkk . and u cant compare non educated inopportuned blacks with frank lucas .. he bought his own family down with him . . men he could of gave money to open legit business .. he was greedy loved power and control HE DID NOT USE MONEY TO BETTER HELP ANYONE …. A fool an his money shall soon depart/ BIBLE HONEYMAN . . STF UP …and listen to him speak he tells you he dont give a shit bout ruining his own moma whom died of a broken heart .. he lives off money he buried or put in swiss accounts im sorry u want to uplift him TRY MARTIN LUTHER FREDRICK DOUGLAS MEDGAR EVERS THURGOOD MARSHALL MINISTER FARAKHAN BLACK PANTHERS
          IF YOU want heros
          i can tell u surely cant be black … NO WAY .. SO PLEASE SHUT UP

  2. cupcake333 on July 26, 2016 at 5:56 pm

    whats his point? an old gangster who should have gotten life for more then one murder clearly he killed more innocent men then cops he actually know more bout DIRT COPS THAN HE WILL ADMIT HE TOOK A PLEA TO RAT ON THEM AND DAM NEAR GOT A WHOLE PRECINT EXTENT . .. if he had not ratted he would not be here talking . .. desperado when i rather not rat then do 30 year and get out brokedown and sick he gave vague statements that help no one … were dealing with corrupt police unlike a few greed cops he paid to kill and hide drugs for him he did no less than john gotti another mass murderer, where the hell he get off thinking black america care bout him he may as well been THE VILLIAN IN A BAT MAN MOVIE .. or mobb boss he had to pay his dues .and he did NOW SIT DOWN IN A COFFFIN CAUSE NO ONE CARES . ROLLINOUT!!! DONT U HAVE police brutality black lives matter stories or hero stories to tell us about!!! u personally rather read bull—- on toilet paper…

    frank what his name has no real advice for no one that he want be dead in a alley if he gives up … he is still watched cause he didnt pay his dues for ratting on his friends .. a COWARD OLD FOOL IS ALL ANYONE SEE FLATTERED A MOVIE WAS ABOUT HIM HE DIDNT EVEN GET PAID ON …

    • Sol Rothstein on July 26, 2016 at 8:20 pm

      The point of all the respect to Frank Lucas, is he MONOPOLIZED the drug game. To a point where he ran the entire GAME, from NY/NJ.

      That’s genius, you dummy.

      • cupcake333 on July 27, 2016 at 3:59 pm

        ONLY GENIUS .. us real blacks know is MEDGAR EVER MARTIN LUTHER FREDRICK DOUGLAS ,, THURGOOD MARSHALL MARCUS GARVEY ,, and many more pioneers this man has and never will be a celebration to black society period save your party … he was a lier and a killer , and killed more blacks than his crooked white cop friends . we dont mark achievement by blacks with his background .. obama is a
        pave way symbol for blacks frank lucas gave jobs to his family member which landed 16 of them in the pen .. today non of them or their kid speak ro him .. he is the hitler of black america ..
        he went against all marcus garvey help us build ..
        frank lucas bought herion and crack to an already failing black neighbohood and got rich
        that is no cause to celebrate tyler perry is who celebrate he came with job and opportniy majic johson open up black businesses in poor areas of LA he will we charish and honored for that

        frank lucas lost ever dime being a arrogant greedy fool who only immpressed fool like u who .. stab african americans in our back
        rooting for A CON MAN WHO YES WAS RICH BUT HAD TO KILL TO GET THERE .. he shot more people than a few ..

  3. Dunit on July 27, 2016 at 9:31 am

    Well now that we know drug use is an illness, and users can come to the station to seek help, when should all the users whom you’ve criminalized expect restitution checks for disparate treatment? Or do we have to hire attorneys to receive those?