By Frederick H.Lowe
Nicky Barnes and Frank Lucas, two of Harlem’s most notorious and widely known heroin dealers, have died.
During their heyday in the 60s and 70s, they flooded Harlem with heroin. Money from drug dealing made them rich and famous and the black community less safe.
“American Gangster,” a movie released in 2017, profiled Lucas. Denzel Washington played Lucas.
And in 1977, Barnes’s photo appeared on the cover of the New York Times Magazine. Cuba Gooding Jr. played Barnes in “American Gangster,” but the film was about Lucas.
Their criminal enterprises caused havoc and raised suspicion throughout Harlem as junkies robbed and killed residents for money to feed their drug habits.
It also opened Harlem to gentrification decades later as law-abiding residents fled the area to escape crime by moving to safer neighborhoods.
Whites moved into Harlem when it was deemed safe by realtors to buy apartment buildings and homes at below-market prices.
Lucas died May 30, in Cedar Grove, New Jersey. He was 88. Lucas was born September 9, 1930, in La Grange, North Carolina.
He took to a life of crime after the Klu Klux Klan, a white terrorist organization, murdered his cousin.
The Klan lynched a 12-year-old boy for staring too long at a white woman, called reckless eyeballing.
Lucas moved to New York City where he worked for Harlem crime boss Bumpy Johnson, who arranged for a boat to assist in the 1962 escape of Clarence Anglin, and brothers Frank and John Morris from Alcatraz Prison.
Actor and director Clint Eastwood released a movie in 1979 about the prison breakout. It was titled “Escape from Alcatraz.”
Lucas, with the assistance of his brothers, took over the heroin business by circumventing the middlemen–Italian mobsters.
He flew a carpenter to Bangkok, Thailand. The carpenter built coffins for dead soldiers killed in Vietnam. Lucas hid the heroin, which was 100 percent pure, in the coffins before shipping them back to the United States. His superior product was called “Blue Magic.”
His entrepreneurship made him fabulously wealthy, earning him $1 million per day. Lucas was said to be worth $52 million. He owned homes and apartment buildings in Chicago, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Detroit, Miami and a large cattle ranch in North Carolina.
Unlike Lucas, we only recently learned about the death of Barnes who died of cancer in 2012. He was either 78 or 79. Where he died is not known. The New York Times recently reported his death.
What is clear is that his photograph was on the cover of June 5, 1977, issue New York Times Magazine. The magazine’s headline called Barnes “Mr. Untouchable.”
Police said he was Harlem’s biggest heroin dealer because at the time the long arm of the law couldn’t lay handcuffs on him. His drug empire, which flourished during the 1960s, included New York, Pennsylvania and parts of Canada.
Leroy Nicholas Barnes was born on October 15, 1933, in Harlem.
Eventually, Barnes turned against his compatriots. He spent 20 years in prison before being released into the witness protection program.
By this time, he was an old man who wore sagging pants and walked with a limp. At one time, hundreds of custom-made suits and coats filled his closets.
He worked at a Wal-Mart but dreamed of owning a Krispy
Kreme doughnut shop, according to several reports.
Writing about Lucas and Barnes presents a real conundrum. They were brilliant entrepreneurs but sold a product that destroyed the black community.