North Carolina born and raised, Frank Lucas would take to crime after the death of his young cousins by the Klan. He was involved in various small-time crimes while living in Greensboro. Similar to his mentor Bumpy Johnson years earlier, he fled Greensboro following a fight with his former boss for Harlem.
Early Criminal Career
While in Harlem, Frank Lucas is said to have been a protege of crime boss Bumpy Johnson. The time of his arrival and entry into crime there and Johnson’s prison time raises some doubt about their relationship.
By the time Johnson died, the criminal underworld in Harlem had changed from a gambling and soft drugs focus. Heroin was the cash crop, something the Mafia didn’t want to touch but readily took a financial cut. Lucas noticed the scene and an opportunity to establish a foothold. He would get the product himself from the source and sell it himself.
Southeast Asia had a treasure trove of opium and heroin. In traveling to Thailand, he would strike up a partnership with Ike Atkinson. Based out of Jack’s American Star Bar where other Black troops hung out, Atkinson was also a North Carolina native and was in Lucas’ family by marriage. Since “Sergeant Smack” was friendly with every Black soldier going through Thailand, he had pull.
Their plan was to ship drugs to the U.S. by storing them in Army coffin replicas or–by Atkinson’s account–in furniture from Thailand. Once he returned to the States, Frank Lucas would hit the streets and start building his own empire by selling product himself and with the help of close relations.