The Black Gambling King of Chicago

Michael LaPointe at The Paris Review:

If you could trace the fate of just one dollar that passed through the hands of John “Mushmouth” Johnson, where would it lead? It probably came to his hands off a craps table or from an office of his policy syndicate, and more likely than not, it would go on to be slipped into the pocket of some crooked cop or double-dealing politician. But if Johnson, whom local papers called “the Negro Gambling King of Chicago,” managed to hold on to it, that dollar might end up supporting a hub of black music in the twenties, or the first black-owned bank in Chicago, or a poetic precursor of the Harlem Renaissance. It would grant Johnson, in death, a respectability he was denied in life.

Johnson’s life was characterized by a constant tension between philanthropy and corruption. Born to the nurse of Mary Todd Lincoln in 1857, Johnson moved from his native Saint Louis to Chicago at an early age. Some said his nickname, Mushmouth, referred to how much he cursed.

more here.