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Johnson died in , Mr.

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Lucas developed his lucrative criminal enterprise. In accounts to the authorities, he said that to break the Mafia monopoly on heroin supplies, which were sold in Harlem and Newark by black dealers, he flew to Thailand and met Leslie Atkinson, known as Ike, a North Carolinian married to one of Mr.

He said that Mr. Atkinson, who ran a Bangkok bar and sold drugs to black soldiers, agreed to help. Lucas said, they made a deal with a Chinese-Thai man named Luchai Rubiwat, who grew poppies and processed opium into almost pure heroin.

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Disguised as an Army officer, Mr. Lucas said, he organized a network of bribed soldiers to move heroin to an air base in Vietnam, from which the bodies of servicemen were flown home. He said he hired a carpenter to build coffins with false bottoms to conceal heroin. Atkinson later disputed Mr.

Atkinson, not Mr. Lucas, had made the connection. He also quoted investigators as saying that many of Mr. But the movie reflected Mr.

The Black Godfather Who Rose, Fell and Vanished | Flashback | OZY

Of course, this is all conjecture. It would only be slightly more theoretical to suggest that these articulate, ambitious black men -- especially Narcisse who doubles as a community organizer -- are somehow a skewed reflection of the ascendancy of a black president.

Yes, I toyed with this idea. Isolating the causes behind this trend is as fraught with uncertainty as labeling it a trend. In the end, though, the best possible cause may be a purely artistic one. It has been reported widely including by me that "Boardwalk Empire's" Dr. Narcisse is based on the real-life Harlem hustler Casper Holstein. Creator and executive producer Terence Winter maintains that, in fact, he and his writers devised the character prior to learning of Holstein's existence.

So why write Narcisse? The show is already brimming with a colorful collection of white gangsters nesting up and down the East Coast. There was already another black character, Chalky White, a coarse, provincial tough with limited dominion over the black population of Atlantic City.

So why introduce this refined alternative with designs on the whole world? In Narcisse, we had a gangster who gave us entree into the worlds of politics, jazz and race relations, both in Atlantic City and Harlem.

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As storytellers, my writers and I found him irresistible. I like to think herein lies the most likely reason for the emergence of this new character type -- the Sophisticated Black Gangster -- into the public consciousness. Experimenting with different characters of every race, orientation, configuration simply opens up the possibilities for broader, more interesting storytelling. Though he may be a villain of the worst ilk -- a hypocrite and a murderer -- Dr. Valentin Narcisse is, as Winter says, a breath of fresh air. Until someone greenlights a show about Casper Holstein as a compelling and conflicted antihero in the vein of Anthony Soprano, the slick, sophisticated Narcisse will certainly suffice.

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Narcisse is just one of many refined black criminals on TV now. What's behind the trend?

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